DOD rapped on switch policy

The Defense Department lacks a suitable process for certifying and authorizing telecommunications switches, which is hindering network interoperability and influencing vendors' plans for competing for DOD business, according to a General Accounting Office report.

The report, "Information Technology: DOD Needs to Improve Process for Ensuring Interoperability of Telecommunications Switches," lambastes the department for not having a "well-defined process, including clear requirements, for certifying and authorizing telecom switches," which opens the door to "future interoperability problems."

In telecommunications, a switch is a network device that selects a path or circuit to send a unit of data to its next destination.

The GAO report, released June 28, also found that DOD did not apply its telecommunications switch certification and authorization process consistently across vendors. The report's third damning finding was that, "DOD's application of its telecom switch certification and authorization process is influencing vendors' plans for competing for the department's business."

Twenty percent of vendors interviewed said that they had stopped doing business with DOD because the costs associated with testing and certification were too high, and another vendor said it is reconsidering participation because of DOD's "inconsistent application of the process."

The report recommends both near- and long-term solutions to DOD's interoperability problems with telecommunication switches.

Near-term recommendations include:

* Using the process flowcharts provided in the GAO briefing to assist in fully documenting the existing certification and authorization process.

* Making that process available to DOD and vendors within 60 days.

In the longer term, GAO recommends that DOD officials issue a revised process within 180 days, after:

* Working jointly with the assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I), who is responsible for the interoperability policy and for providing guidance and oversight.

* Soliciting DOD and vendor input on needed process changes.

* Seeking DOD and vendor comments on a draft of the revised process before it is issued in final form.

Taking those steps will help to ensure that the new process "is complete, current, transparent to stakeholders, and enforceable by the Joint Staff," the report said.

The final GAO recommendation is that the Defense Information Systems Agency, as the DOD authority responsible for certifying the interoperability of switches, complete its ongoing inventory of switches installed in the Defense Switched Network.

In a June 11 letter responding to a draft copy of the report, John Osterholtz, director of architecture and interoperability in the DOD's Office of the Assistant Secretary for C3I, attributed the weaknesses to the process being relatively new, but generally concurred with GAO's major recommendations.

"The Joint Staff recognizes the need to educate the community on switch certification and has taken all the necessary steps to enhance training in this area," Osterholtz said in the letter.

RELATEDLINKS

GAO report: "DOD Needs to Improve Process for Ensuring Interoperability of Telecommunications Switches"

"GAO: E-records overwhelm NARA" [Federal Computer Week, June 24, 2002]

"GAO faults Army Corps security" [Federal Computer Week, June 11, 2002]

"Fedwire" [Federal Computer Week, Nov. 16, 1998]

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