Leadership void for national security computing, comm
- By Ronald Elliott
- May 31, 1998
At a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of the vulnerabilities of our national sanctuary related to our unprecedented dependence upon inadequately planned and defended national and Defense information services and infrastructure, the Defense Department's lack of strong, capable leaders assigned to manage Defense information and information technologies is inexcusable.
For more than a year the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence (ASD/C3I) and the DOD chief information officer have lacked permanent and consistent leadership and suffered increasing deterioration of senior staff. Perhaps worse, the confusion in the Office of ASD regarding whether— or how— to manage C3I and related IT critical to national defense systems represents a vulnerability to our national security of increasing proportions.
While billions were being spent through the DOD budget on IT, the office designated to oversee that spending and to produce sophisticated systems envisioned by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been run by a series of temporary fill-ins. No wonder that many emerging systems and programs run by the separate services and agencies lack the level of security, interoperability and integration needed to achieve the vision. As a nation, we are all reminded that vision without action is fantasy.
In an era in which our national leadership, including our most senior military leaders, is espousing the need for "information dominance," to have the ASD/C3I and DOD CIO without full-time, qualified, permanent leadership for months on end is unbelievable. Besides the obvious impacts from the lack of continuous and consistent direction toward the goals espoused by our nation's leaders— military and civilian— this leadership void has engendered gradual deterioration and demoralization of the experienced professional staff of that office. The latter has led to increased disarray and confusion throughout the Defense C3I community. But the spending goes on.
Similarly, recognizing the symbiotic relationship of intelligence information and the information services and automated systems involved in national C3, we also must be concerned regarding attention to governmentwide intelligence information and information systems management.
In recent months, the director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Community Management Staff (CMS) generally has seen continued change and declining leadership, especially in its management and oversight of information and IT systems.
Although previous DCIs and senior staff placed great importance on community management of information and IT investments, the degree of attention at that level to information and IT management has waned. Even the Intelligence Systems Secretariat, which was put in place by a previous generation of leaders to improve the management of intelligence computer and communications systems across the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and DCI domains, drifts in disarray with no permanent director or consensus on its mission and functions.
Like the Joint Staff, the intelligence community has a vision— to become a "more agile intelligence enterprise" partly through a joint "virtual intelligence environment"— but no clearly recognized community information management office has been instituted and given the authority and resources to effectively oversee intelligence information and information systems and technology management to achieve that vision.
In addition, attention is not being given to administering communitywide information and IT management consistent with the management principles established by the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) report and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. As with the ASD, even the position of the CMS executive director has been vacant recently, filled by an "acting" appointee with minimal community management experience.
The NPR report and the Clinger-Cohen Act clearly establish the necessity of exploiting IT and managing government information as a critical capital resource. Certainly, few would argue the management principles they establish, but we must be amazed at the paucity of attention given by OSD and DCI to establishing and continuously maintaining permanent institutional executive managers to apply them.
Recognizing the need to have uninterrupted stewardship of national Defense C3I and related national security information and technology management, Emmett Paige, the last ASD/C3I and DOD CIO, gave many months' notice of his retirement. However, after months of waiting patiently for a successor to be appointed, he departed last year. The position has been temporarily filled since then with a series of "acting" or "senior civilian" officials. More alarming, after his departure, months were wasted through subsequently reconsidered decisions to dismantle the office entirely, leading to further confusion and disarray across the DOD and intelligence community.
The necessity of having appropriately experienced and capable officials in place to manage federal government information and IT is established in a law carrying the name of the secretary of Defense himself. For appropriately equipped information and IT management officials to be missing at the Office of ASD and at the CMS is an abominable state of affairs— one that reeks of mismanagement of one of the most important functions of our national security and one that deserves the attention of the president of the United States and the nation's citizens.
-- Elliott is a recently retired federal government executive with more than 30 years in the national security arena. Most recently, Elliott was director of the Intelligence Systems Secretariat, an organization with responsibilities spanning several executive departments and agencies. He served on the Federal CIO Council, the Military Intelligence Board and the Military Communications-Electronics Board.