Better management needed for 21st-century defense

As information technology companies continue to churn out new technologies, the key challenge for the Defense Department in the dawning of the 21st century will not be to acquire more and better technology to support the warfighter but to better manage that technology.

The federal agencies in charge of national security— DOD, the intelligence community and some civilian agencies— are mutually dependent, relying on each other for information and support services. In essence, we rely on this national security enterprise as a monolithic, integrated group, but all its parts are rarely managed as a single enterprise. At the dawn of a new millennium, it is time to reconsider the manner in which tax dollars are invested to provide the "information dominance" envisioned by the previous chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the goal of our national security enterprise.

While much effort has been placed on discovering technological advances and more ways to collect information, we must shift our emphasis toward developing ways to better manage technology and the information it makes available to us. We must acknowledge that more and more technology, like more and more information, will not necessarily enable us to fulfill the Pentagon's many roles. We must never expect that computers— including things called "knobots," robots or "automated intelligence"— will solve all the challenges facing DOD. Computers and the information they contain or exchange are valuable only to the extent that they can be effectively used by humans to extend their knowledge and interrelationships to expand our capacities as individuals, organizations and nations.

Therefore, when we contemplate the enormous taxpayer investments our government makes to obtain more technology and to hoard more information, we must cast a critical eye to the value we as a nation realize from those investments and those efforts. As an example, consider DOD, composed of many separate enterprises called military departments, agencies and commands.

These component organizations spend billions of dollars annually on computers, communications and related information technologies. It is difficult to identify any weapons and supporting equipment that do not contain or rely upon information technology and information storage repositories or services.

Indeed, there's no doubt that our defense forces will have more information than they can expect to effectively manage. But because a seemingly infinite amount of information is available, it is difficult to imagine how any one nation can dominate the world's supply of it.

What we should pursue is the domination of the activities and processes that are important to our national security and welfare. This can be accomplished partly by providing our decision-makers with the knowledge needed to accomplish that goal and with the processes to achieve an advantage relative to any adversary.

Solely increasing the supply of information to top managers will not necessarily provide critical knowledge. To effectively increase knowledge, one must provide information in a timely manner and in the format and context of the situation. Information must be managed, disseminated and exchanged in an organized and productive manner as an integrated enterprise. Therein lies our major national security challenge in years ahead.

To better manage IT, DOD and the intelligence community must manage not only the technology it obtains, interconnects and integrates but also the information itself and the manner in which it is collected, processed, exchanged and displayed to decision-makers, including other machines.

Management of the enterprise's information and IT is not in place within DOD. Instead, the individual components jealously guard their turf and accept controls, IT architectures and management from others only when forced to do so. It is time this stopped. It is time DOD and the intelligence community recognize their collective role as an enterprise, agree on a strategic plan to fulfill their missions and identify the information they need to put a plan into action.

Only then can an appropriate management structure and responsibilities be provided to ensure the right information and technology is obtained, assembled and applied to deliver that information. Only then will the security of the supporting infrastructure and services be assured, and only then will our taxpayer dollars be effectively applied to the defense capabilities needed in the new millennium to protect our national security from threats still unimaginable in the 21st century.

-- 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.

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