DMS progressing, not 'perfect'

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The Defense Message System (DMS) is "not the poster child for perfection" but is progressing normally toward its next major milestone, according to the Defense Department's chief information officer.

John Stenbit, DOD CIO and assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence (ASD-C3I), said he has never personally reviewed the DMS program — which is designed to support secure communications worldwide — but that in general "it looks like most normal programs."

"It doesn't do everything right, but it's not cratering," Stenbit said in an interview this week.

He acknowledged the program's troubled past, including nagging rumors that it is behind schedule and even technologically obsolete, but he said many of those comments were caused by "difficult bureaucratic negotiations," which often accompany programs involving all of the military services and DOD agencies.

DMS messages travel on the Defense Information System Network, which distributes voice, video and data messages. The system is 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.

Most DOD employees have a Microsoft Corp. Outlook client for e-mail. DMS messages look slightly different because of the strict security parameters. However, users can compose DMS messages at their desktops and then use a Fortezza card, which has a cryptographic token for securing messages, to sign and encrypt it, said Diann McCoy, the Defense Information Systems Agency's principal director for applications engineering.

Verlin Hardin, DISA's DMS program manager, said the program is on schedule to replace the aging Automatic Digital Network (Autodin) when it is shut down Sept. 30.

DOD approved DMS 3.0 Gold — the software's latest version — for deployment last summer, and "that milestone drove a stake in the ground" that showed the capabilities were in place "to make DMS a good, solid messaging solution," Hardin said.

However, last summer's milestone also included some "exit criteria" required by Stenbit's office, including directory and security enhancements, which DISA is now testing and completing, Hardin said.

Stenbit said the last DMS meeting he attended was focused on enhancing security and determining the best "timing and sequencing" for adding those capabilities. He added that some have asked why DOD continues to spend money on DMS in the age of secure instant messaging and chat rooms.

"The military is involved in very, very serious business" and must keep intricate records of orders, deployments and other information, Stenbit said. "The fundamental recordkeeping [system] of DOD has not been updated in a long time and that's what DMS is, the system of record for decisions."

That is why the department has remained committed to DMS, because it will serve as a "record system we can count on," he said.

"We need a rock-solid record system to record for posterity our actual operations," Stenbit said. "We're looking forward to DMS doing that."

If for some reason, the system is not ready and Autodin shouldn't be shut down, "I'll make that decision, but I've not heard anything that would cause me to do that at this time."

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