Gansler says IT savings will help modernize nation's defense

Jacques Gansler, Defense undersecretary for acquisition and technology, went to the Hill Feb. 26 to champion the Defense Department's plans to operate more efficiently by using information technology and by streamlining procurement. But a high-ranking member of the House National Security Committee said the plan does not go far enough and that program cuts may be needed.

At issue is DOD's aging military infrastructure—- from weapons to computer systems—- which has been handicapped by budget constraints for nearly a decade. Gansler, citing the Defense Reform Initiative, said a new way of doing business for DOD should mean savings that can be used to modernize national defenses.

"There's a very huge opportunity here to pay for some of this modernization through a restructuring of our infrastructure and our support," Gansler told a joint hearing of the National Security Committee's Military Research and Development and Military Procurement subcommittees. The subcommittees met to review plans for DOD modernization.

But members were not convinced. "The point is, I don't see how we get from here to there," said Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), chairman of the Military Research and Development Subcommittee. "I don't see the rosy scenario coming together."

Weldon and other members painted a picture of an expensive and dangerous post-Cold War defense arena in which the United States is deploying troops in more and more areas and in which even tiny groups using computers or weapons of mass destruction can pose serious threats to national security. He said President Clinton's proposed Defense budget—- even in light of the IT and procurement initiatives outlined by Gansler—- simply is not big enough, and programs would have to be cut if the administration wants to keep the budget request as is.

"My own feeling is that [administration officials] should recommend some canceling of programs," Weldon said after the hearing. Weldon would not name the programs he would recommend cutting, saying instead that the administration should be responsible for determining what programs to cut.

Gansler maintained, however, that IT initiatives could pay off. Twice he cited the Navy's Smart Ship project as an example of a potential money-saver. The project seeks to reduce the number of sailors on a ship by as much as 30 percent by rigging the vessel with high-speed networks and by using PC applications for steering and other critical operations. Gansler said the money saved by trimming staff on ships could be funneled into modernization efforts.

Although Weldon would not name programs that should be prime candidates to be cut, subcommittee members and Gansler were not shy about what programs to keep, including a plan to spend $3.6 billion over five years to develop defenses for electronic warfare—- or "information warfare"—- under a philosophy that Gansler calls "information assurance."

"I think this is an area that ought to be of great concern to all of us," Gansler said.

"It's one of our top priorities," said Weldon, who along with other subcommittee members framed threats like information warfare as a distinct possibility.

Besides information assurance, other IT-related areas were key to Gansler's notion of modernizing with the money saved through new business practices. In written testimony submitted to Congress, Gansler said the re-engineering of the DOD logistics system is one key to paying for modernization. Also in his testimony, Gansler said DOD has spent $100 million on one project to take commercial technology—- such as off-the-shelf electronic equipment, chip sets and software—- and customize them for the military. Contractors are supposed to bear at least 25 percent of the costs of redesigning the products. Projected savings from the project are expected to total more than $3 billion over the next 10 years, Gansler said.

"I think that our community's view is that the budget is too large and that the reason it's too large is because we've got too much of the wrong stuff," said John Pike, director of the Space Policy Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit organization that monitors Defense and space issues.

Pike said the U.S. military is equipped to handle two major simultaneous wars or to pull off a "rerun" of Desert Storm, which Pike maintains was plagued by "a lack of intelligence" and "dumb bombs" that did not hit their marks. "The world that they are planning for is not the world we happen to be in," Pike said.

He said money might be better spent investing in IT and intelligence technology so the armed forces could "do more with less." "We've got too much emphasis on new platforms [such as ships, aircraft and other vehicles] and not enough emphasis on intelligence improvements and smart-weapons improvements," he said.

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