DISA plans joint IT buys

Defense Information Systems Agency Web site

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is establishing an organization to handle joint information technology acquisitions for network centricity.

Testifying Feb. 11 before the House Armed Services Committee's Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities subcommittee, Army. Maj. Gen. Marilyn Quagliotti, DISA's new vice director, said her agency is reorganizing itself.

"We need to adjust our organization to take into account the new challenges ahead," she said. "One of those, we think, is the ability for the department to have a joint acquisition organization. As a result of lessons we've learned and direction from our civilian leadership, we are reorganizing to establish a joint acquisition organization as part of our agency."

This marks a shift in the thinking of Defense Department officials, which so far have done little to foster direct joint acquisitions.

A week before the meeting on Capitol Hill, Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, the commander of Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), said at the AFCEA West 2004 conference in San Diego that he did not want to have joint acquisition authority within JFCOM because it would require hundreds of new acquisition employees and a slew of new rules and regulations. JFCOM provides the Defense Department with oversight for joint requirements to which the services must adhere when making acquisitions, but the command does not have significant joint acquisition authority.

Giambastiani said that in certain circumstances, JFCOM can make acquisitions -- but that usually relies on extenuating circumstances. For example, JFCOM was given acquisition authority to purchase the Phraselator -- a handheld language translation device developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- in large quantities for certain special operations forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Defense chief information officer John Stenbit said the department is well on its way to achieving greater degrees of network centricity than have ever been achieved before, due in large part to initiatives such as the Global Information Grid and Horizontal Fusion.

Horizontal Fusion is a set of experiments conducted last year that are designed to test the current limitations of network centricity, and more clearly define the path DOD needs to take to achieve a more networked force.

"These precursors for real net-centric capabilities have allowed us to test the results available when we use net-centric concepts, and the results have been so successful that we are now including in the Strategic Guidance of the department that we will accelerate our move towards net-centric capability," Stenbit said.

Rep. John Kline (R, Minn.) admitted that the convergence of timing and motivation on the part of both DOD and Congress has led to the threshold of network centricity.

"If we were relying on the [Joint Requirements Operations Council] system to buy computers 10 or 15 years ago, and we hadn't had [individual] people go out and buy them, we may not have the mess we have today [with joint interoperability], but we'd still be using typewriters and hand cranked Xerox machines," Kline said.

"Unfortunately, sometimes it costs more than just money," Stenbit said. "There are no hourglasses on our system. You can't wait for [something] to show up on your screen while you're waiting to shoot someone."


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