GAO sees no strategy for military's commercial bandwidth

"Satellite communications: Strategic approach needed for DOD's procurement of commercial satellite bandwidth"

The Defense Department's process for buying commercial satellite bandwidth can be too slow and inflexible, and can hinder time-critical military operations, according to a General Accounting Office report released this week.

GAO officials found that the process of acquiring the satellite bandwidth is fair to vendors and their subcontractors, but some of the vendors have complained that DOD seems to lack a strategic approach.

DOD, the largest user of commercial satellite bandwidth, leases satellite services through the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) or the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization (DITCO). DISA does not acquire bandwidth directly from commercial satellite providers, but buys it through several competitively-selected vendors.

However, the report found that some vendors are getting waivers to bypass the process or bypassing it without the waivers, because they view the process as lengthy, expensive and inflexible.

"In fiscal year 2002, nearly 20 percent of DOD's reported spending on satellite bandwidth services occurred outside the process, and one DOD official stated that the true percentage is probably much higher," the report said. "By allowing users to bypass the DISA waiver process, DOD is hampering its ability to ensure that its communications networks are interoperable and to minimize redundancies."

The report went on to say that DOD officials don't know how much the agency is spending on commercial satellite services, "nor does it know much about its service providers."

"Moreover, neither DOD nor DISA is making a concerted effort to collect forecasts of bandwidth needs from users and ensure those needs can be met by the commercial sector," the report said. "If DISA is to remain as DOD's primary agent to acquire satellite bandwidth, then it must implement a more strategic management approach -- one that ensures that services can be acquires in a fair, timely and cost-effective way that meets users' needs."

"Doing so will be a considerable challenge, however, given the current environment and potential resistance within DISA and from its users," the report added.

DOD officials, through chief information officer John Stenbit and DISA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege, concurred or partially concurred with each of GAO's recommendations, most of which involved developing frameworks for identifying future needs and analyzing the process of acquiring the bandwidth to fit those needs.

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