Get ready for Government Inc. It's coming a lot sooner than you think. That's
the gist of a memo sent out last month by Dan Porter, the Navy's chief information
The memo allows Navy organizations to hire contractors to conduct certain
portions of "defensive information operations." That means civilian programmers
working for companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and GTE Corp. can help
protect the Defense Department's information systems from cyberattacks launched
by nation states and terrorists.
The job of defending the nation's information infrastructure, the policy
states, is now "non-inherently governmental." That's quite an information
warfare policy leap. When did defensive maneuvers become non-inherently
Certainly, outsourcing information security work is a reality. Civilians
staff the information operations group for the command that covers the central
and southern Americas and the Caribbean. Porter makes a distinction that
offensive attacks launched by the United States against an enemy nation's
information systems remain inherently governmental and, therefore, will
be carried out by uniformed personnel. That's a fine line to draw, and even
harder to stick to.
But Porter, like other military and civilian CIOs, is facing an impossible
task: competing with fat compensation packages offered by the private sector
for information technology talent, combined with the mass retirement of
federal technologists expected in the next five years. If agencies want
to continue to meet their obligations, outsourcing what has been thought
to be inherently governmental IT jobs is a must.
That's why agencies need to begin to work through all the policy implications
of hiring contractors to do inherently governmental work. The Federal Activities
Inventory Reform Act, which requires agencies to develop a list of functions
they perform that are not considered inherently governmental, is a start.
But more needs to be done, such as thinking through what the consequences
are of hiring private firms to do this work. How we define and manage government
will certainly change. As the Navy may soon find out, coming up with answers
may be more difficult than you think.