DOD official outlines IT challenges

As the military services continue to fight the first war of the Information Age, the Defense Department is making information technology a top priority - but not without major challenges, according to Paul Wolfowitz, deputy Defense secretary.

Wolfowitz said DOD's younger, more IT-savvy personnel - which he dubbed the joystick generation - are making great strides in helping bring the military from the Industrial Age into the Information Age. This means a shift in focus from an overall mass of systems to networked, distributed forces with greater situational awareness.

Much integration work remains to be done and because of the speed of technological innovations, Wolfowitz said it sometimes seems that for "every year we're catching up, we fall three more years behind." He spoke Oct. 30 at the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association's (GEIA) annual budget forecast conference in Tysons Corner, Va.

Last year's Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated review of DOD military strategy and force structure, included IT in two of its operational goals: viewing technology as a critical asset that needs to be defended in and of itself, and also viewing it as the enabler for bringing about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's proposed transformation of the armed forces.

Wolfowitz said the quadrennial review acknowledges that the increased emphasis on IT also requires cultural changes, which can be encouraged by "innovation and intelligent risk-taking."

In addition to culture, he noted three main technical challenges in the DOD's use of IT:

* Making information available on a network that people trust.

* Populating that network with new and useful information that pulls from the best resources rather than pushing it from a central location.

* Denying U.S. enemies access to the network.

"They aren't separate tasks; they are interdependent and merit concurrent pursuit," Wolfowitz told Federal Computer Week in an e-mail. "In other words, while all three should and are being worked on, it is probably fair to say that the department has made the most progress to date on [the first goal], which is perhaps the most urgent at this early stage."

Wolfowitz said industry has helped DOD overcome its IT challenges, and he thanked the GEIA audience members for their work, calling for continued support to meet those requirements in the future.

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