GAO: Rogue networks thwart DISN

The continued operation of separate telecommunications networks by the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps and other Defense Department agencies threatens the viability of the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) to provide a global common-user network for DOD users worldwide, according to a General Accounting Office report released late last week.

The Defense Information Systems Agency has not developed a "comprehensive inventory" of these rogue networks, it lacks the data to track volumes and types of traffic on its networks, and it has not developed performance measures, as required by law, for the DISN program, according to the report. As a result, GAO said, DOD's "stated goals for DISN are at risk, and Defense cannot insure that DISN is the most cost-effective solution to Defense's telecommunications service requirements."

Unable to rely on DISA for data on independent networks operated by the services and Defense agencies, GAO conducted its own survey and unearthed at least 87 networks, with the costs of operating 68 of these totaling more than $89 million annually. The report said DISA subsequently conducted its own survey and identified 153 independent networks operated by the services and Defense agencies.

In a response to the GAO report, Art Money, the DOD senior civilian official nominated but not yet confirmed as the assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, said joint interoperability— not the lowest possible cost for an individual network— should be the focus of DOD's network infrastructure. DISN, and to a lesser extent FTS 2000, were designated as DOD common-user networks to provide "interoperability, positive DOD control, information protection and economical costs at the enterprise level...[which] does not always equate to the most economical out-of-pocket costs for the individual component."

DISA lacks the basic "performance measures" data required by the Clinger-Cohen Act that "would facilitate comparisons between DISN and the independent networks." As a result, the agency cannot demonstrate "that DISN is a better choice than their various independent networks, nor will it be able to target and direct management's attention to their problem areas."

Telecommunications industry sources familiar with DOD's networks said the continued operation of those networks reflects what one vendor called "a state of near civil war" between the services and DISA.

Despite policies calling for the use of DISN in most circumstances— and an exacting waiver process for independent networks— another industry source said the services want to control their own networks "because they can save money and get better service."

Bill Brougham, director of Sprint's defense program office, said the services' continued use of their own networks should cause DISA and DOD to ponder a basic question. "If they are having so much trouble getting people onto [DISN], they might want to ask what's wrong with [it]."

Diana Gowen, director of defense and national information infrastructure for MCI Government Markets, said DISA "has been preoccupied with standing up the DISN network and after October will be able to refocus on the stovepiped networks and what's appropriate to bring onto DISN."

Recommendations

GAO recommended that DISA and DOD adopt performance measures, develop and maintain a comprehensive inventory of DOD telecommunications services and equipment, develop a database to track telecommunications acquisitions and costs, define and institute a process for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of DOD networks and mandate the use of common-user networks where appropriate.

Money, in his July 18 letter to GAO, said that "although we concur with the recommendations, we are concerned that language in the body of the report may lead the reader to believe the department has done nothing [to] enforce consistent policy" for long-haul telecommunications.

Money said DOD intends to issue a new policy memo focusing on "enterprise-level visibility into both technical and fiscal aspects of all DOD long-haul commercial telecommunications requirements and acquisitions, including the reporting of prescribed performance metrics and the adoption of specific oversight and enforcement mechanisms."

DISA did not respond to requests for comment on the GAO report by the July 31 deadline. AT&T, which holds the contract to provide circuits for the domestic portion of DISN, declined to comment, saying it was inappropriate for a contractor to comment on such a report.

A spokesman for the Navy said the service needed to review the report before commenting. The Army and Air Force also did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

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