DOD envisions 'system of systems'

The Defense Information Systems Agency's architectural responsibilities would be enhanced and solidified in a draft plan for the reorganization of the Defense Department's command and control and its information technology management and oversight.

The draft, which is under evaluation by Secretary of Defense William Co-hen and Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre, envisions DISA playing a central role in the integration of all DOD IT systems, including those developed by the services, into a "system of systems."

The draft plan, called "Blueprint for the ASD/C3I and CIO," noted that top DOD management must rely on DISA for "timely and accurate technical and architectural information'' not only for departmentwide systems but also for links to those developed by the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. DISA, the blueprint noted, "is responsible for the interfaces between defensewide and component information activities."

The blueprint concluded that DOD needs this central management to help U.S. armed forces retain information superiority to fight future battles, which will demand "joint interoperability between the combatant forces and sustaining services."

Lack of interoperability "is directly related to fratricide and a loss of combat effectiveness on the battlefield," according to the draft plan, which was developed by a team led by Duane Andrews, a former assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence in the Bush administration and now a senior executive with Science Applications International Corp.

Interoperability, and the common standards and architecture to achieve it, must extend to the large-scale, ongoing programs managed by each of the services to upgrade the base infrastructure of local-area networks and wide-area networks, the plan noted. "The current uncoordinated modernization of [base-, post- or camp-level] infrastructures...will translate into joint interoperability problems on future battlefields and directly detracts from the goal of achieving information superiority."

DOD needs to undergo what the plan calls "wrenching changes" in its management and oversight of IT system acquisition and development to meet the information superiority goal, the plan said. The plan embraced the principles set down in the Clinger-Cohen Act for IT reform and was also guided by an examination of functional process improvements mandated by the Government Performance and Results Act.

The report said DOD needs to recognize advances in computer and communications technology in its "policies for the acquisition of technology to support functional processes.... Because of the varied useful life of system components, total 'systems' should rarely be acquired.... As business practices change, software applications that encapsulate new business rules and can access and manipulate data should be rapidly acquired and run on top of...existing infrastructures such as the [DISA-developed] Defense Information Infrastructure Common Operating Environment."

This intentional step back from the acquisition of large-scale systems dovetails with "the intent of Congress that agencies give preference to the modular acquisition of information capabilities," the report said.

Eben Townes, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., a consulting firm in Chantilly, Va., said that it "should be no surprise" to anyone that the reorganization plan focuses attention on the Clinger-Cohen Act because Cohen, one of the authors of the bill, now runs DOD. Townes views the draft as an attempt by DOD to develop the management structure it needs for to oversee its complex systems. "When I look at DOD systems, I don't see any technical problems; I see management problems."

Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., said acquisition reform has allowed DOD management to shift its focus "from micromanaging procurements to managing systems.... But it needs the ability to detect when people are going off in their own direction.... They need someone to say 'no.' "

Dornan said he believes the dramatic changes proposed in the plan result directly from Cohen's leadership of the department. "For the first time there is someone at the helm who is familiar with IT issues.... They're no longer secondary, because Cohen is a huge stakeholder [in IT reform]," Dornan said.

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