A lesson learned, again

In recent weeks Defense Department officials have acknowledged that the Defense Message System as originally conceived was too much of a "grand design." It prescribed complex and costly solutions where a simpler architecture that relies more on commercial technology might better meet users' needs.

Although other agencies have learned the same lesson with their own programs it is a message that bears repeating.

The rapid evolution of information technology makes it very difficult to execute long-term IT programs without eventually falling behind the standards set by the IT industry. Ten years ago the plan for DMS indeed was grand now it simply appears outdated.

The Federal Aviation Administration ran into the same problem with its multibillion-dollar Advanced Automation System program as did the National Guard with its Reserve Component Automation System. In these and other cases agencies have been forced to draw up new plans that allow them to incorporate more modern and generally more cost-effective technology. Frequently this approach forces agencies to scale back their programs more closely melding the system architecture to the capabilities of the technology.

We cannot afford for each agency or each program office to learn this lesson for itself. DISA has taken the right step in rethinking its DMS strategy. Other agencies should revisit their own "grand design" programs to make sure that they incorporate realistic goals and the technical flexibility necessary to keep them viable in the long run.

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