Letter to the editor

Does anyone know who's at the helm of Navy information technology?

As a federal agency employee who has frequent dealings with the Navy, I have found it interesting to watch the service start its IT makeover. In particular, it's been entertaining to watch officials struggle through the implementation of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet program and all of the IT issues that program has stirred up.

It appears they're making progress in bootstrapping themselves out of an ugly legacy applications situation. And compared to some other Defense Department systems, NMCI did very well defending against recent cyberattacks.

Despite these successes, the Navy has a long way to go before it can achieve its stated goals of leveraging IT to transform itself.

Specifically, the Navy is suffering from a lack of seasoned leadership in the IT arena, as evidenced by:

* Gordon England, the Navy's strongest advocate for using IT as a catalyst for transformation, has left the Navy secretary's position to move to the No. 2 post at the Homeland Security Department.

* Dan Porter, the Navy Department's chief information officer, and Ron Turner, his deputy, recently retired.

* Joseph Cipriano, program executive officer for information technology, just retired.

* Vice Adm. Richard Mayo vacated his post as Navy CIO to start a new Naval Network Warfare Command and is now subordinated to an Echelon II command (commander, Atlantic Fleet).

* Rumors indicate that the acting Navy secretary is about to reassign the title of Navy CIO from its previous three-star billet to a two-star billet.

The Navy has had sporadic fits of boldness with respect to movement in the IT arena (e.g., approval of the NMCI program and establishment of an IT operational commander). But beyond these few stakes in the sand, there is little evidence of a day-to-day commitment by the Navy's senior leadership to take management of IT capabilities seriously.

The phrase "network-centric" shows up in almost every major program briefing, but there is little tangible evidence that there is a coherent strategy for IT resource allocation.

I'm told that at this time of year, the chief of naval operations gets bleary-eyed listening to pleas for funding for IT initiatives that are "exactly what is needed" or "vital to transformation."

Who is assessing these requests for the CNO to ensure they'll be compatible or fit into a coherent IT capability procurement strategy? Answer: No one. There is no process in place to ensure that IT initiatives are interoperable or make good business sense from a procurement perspective in view of all other IT initiatives being planned. A prime example of this are the six or seven enterprise resource planning initiatives under development that are rumored to be costing the Navy Department billions to implement AND are NOT all interoperable!

If the Navy is serious about transforming itself and generating significant savings, it will need to replace rapidly aging weapons systems, and it must take the lessons of organizations such as IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. to heart. With the appointment of a benevolent dictator, both of those organizations saved billions by establishing and enforcing standards, holding leaders personally responsible for actively supporting the corporate IT strategy and establishing a single broker for all IT resource allocations.

The Navy is in the midst of implementing the largest IT initiative in the history of DOD, which will affect every shore-based command and vessel pier side. The Navy can ill afford a void in IT leadership at a time when a strong leader with the requisite degree of influence is needed.

Some say the importance the Navy assigns to an initiative is reflected in the number of stars attached to it. The Navy needs to appoint an IT resource allocation czar with the authority to say yes or no to an IT initiative no matter who's sponsoring it.

Name withheld by request

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