DOD weighs DMS' fate

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Defense Department information technology officials may lift a requirement that all services use the departmentwide secure electronic messaging system — a system they maintain has been overtaken by newer technology.

Since the Pentagon first began developing the Defense Message System, a $1.6 billion program designed to support secure communications worldwide, top officials have stuck by the requirement to make it mandatory for all of DOD.

In certain areas, especially in military operations, "DMS has let us down in its present version," said Owen Wormser, principal director for spectrum, space, sensors and command, control and communications in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. "There are those that are...saying [DMS] is not the environment of the 21st century," he said during an Aug. 8 breakfast sponsored by Input, a market research firm. Some people are pushing for the ability to use chat rooms, secure e-mail or secure Extensible Markup Language via browsers, he said.

Opponents of DMS say that DOD should move away from DMS' structured directories, Wormser said, although he stressed that it is unlikely that DOD will ever pull the plug on DMS. "I think what you will see is an opening of the door that says, 'Why do I keep doing DMS?' " he said.

But DMS advocates have come forward and addressed user concerns such as undelivered messages, he said.

"The opening of the door is important," Wormser said. "We haven't had an open, senior-level dialogue about what we are doing in a long time." The discussions should be a "comprehensive dialogue about what are we doing, why are we doing it, how much are we spending, does it add value, what performance metrics are we using. That will have to take place."

Paul Brubaker, chief executive officer of Aquilent Inc. and a former DOD deputy chief information officer, said that DMS has improved during the years, but he wonders if it makes sense to try to "turbocharge the Model T."

Deployment has taken far too long, and it often appears that the system has been overtaken by technology, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Defense Information Systems Agency confirmed that DISA officials are in discussions with Stenbit's office about overall DOD transformation efforts such as how to move "processes and capabilities to a network-centric environment, including messaging."

DISA, which manages DMS, endorses the program, said DISA spokeswoman Betsy Flood. DMS "is successfully passing missions of military messages each month," she said.

DMS "is on solid footing," according to a statement from DMS contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. "Based on positive test results," DOD approved DMS 3.0 Gold — the latest version of the software — for deployment in July.


DMS details

* The Defense Message System, first conceived of in 1989, was designed to replace the aging Automatic Digital Network (Autodin).

* DMS messages travel over the Defense Information Systems Network, which distributes voice, video and data messages.

* DMS was designed to provide writer-to-reader message services for classified and top-secret information to all DOD users at their desktops and, if needed, to other federal agencies and contractors.

* DOD's deadline to turn off Autodin is Sept. 30, 2003.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine,, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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