DOD EA Version 3.0

Troubled Pentagon effort to create a business architecture tries again

Heaps of information systems jumbled like a bowl of spaghetti translate into hardships for warfighters on the Defense Department's frontlines. The systems occasionally miss pay periods or wrongly discontinue medical benefits. Military logisticians often cannot find out the location of shipped material, and DOD financial management has been a long-standing problem.

Enter DOD's business enterprise architecture, part of the Pentagon's struggling four-year effort to streamline and transform its operations in acquisition, logistics, personnel and other business areas.

The brunt of criticism from the Government Accountability Office and recently the object of increased congressional scrutiny, the program is nonetheless poised to effect real change, said Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of Defense for business transformation.

As of press time, Version 3.0 of DOD's business enterprise architecture was set to debut Sept. 30. The latest version embodies a new approach to transformation, Brinkley said last month at FCW Events' Enterprise Architecture Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C. For starters, it's accompanied by a transition plan that commits the program office to fulfilling a set of staggered goals.

"I assure you we're going to miss some of them," Brinkley said. "And I assure you we're going to pull some of them in. The ones we miss, we'll put in a recovery plan, and the ones we pull in, we'll pat ourselves on the back and set new ones."

An important outcome is the creation of a process for continual improvement, he added.

Program officials decided to revamp the project earlier this year to focus more on outcomes. Its emphasis has shifted from blanket harmonization of business processes and data across DOD to targeted standardization, he said.

The new plan is to take a less top-down approach toward business modernization. DOD "does not govern itself ubiquitously top down," Brinkley said. Rather, it's a federated organization of military branches that have a fair degree of autonomy. So its enterprise architecture also needs to be federated. When "you don't align with your enterprise structure, you will fail," he added.

The program's new federated approach makes sense given the ever-expanding scope of the problem, said Dov Zakheim, a former DOD comptroller who is now a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Modernization officials at first thought they were tackling 1,800 disparate systems. But after a more thorough inventory, they discovered the number of known systems is about 5,000. "Shutting down that number of systems would just bring everything to a halt," Zakheim said.

In the past, the program office tried a comprehensive approach to standardization, which military services resisted, Brinkley said. Instead, program officials now ask for standards around the data elements necessary for rapid decision-making within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Program officials are taking a similar hands-off approach with business processes. Military branches must comply to some extent with business enterprise architecture mandates, "but otherwise are given the freedom to their own time, as quickly as they can, without burdensome, unnecessary engagement" from the top, Brinkley said.

The program had taken a misstep by placing too much importance on turning systems off, Brinkley said.

"You get rid of disparate business systems by cleaning up your operations and by articulating your transformation efforts in terms of capability outcomes, and the systems will follow," he said.

That approach opens the door to further standardization down the road, said Gene Leganza, vice president of Forrester Research's public-sector group. "What it represents is an intention to modernize but with a very pragmatic eye so you don't end up with one huge program failure after another," he said.


Business enterprise architecture gets muscle

Version 3.0 of the Defense Department's business enterprise architecture comes with strict measures against those who invest in new business systems without the approval of DOD's comptroller.

Officials routinely flout a requirement that the comptroller review any business system investment worth more than $1 million, according to a recent Government Accountability Office audit.

Officials who make any such investment now could be written up under the Anti-Deficiency Act. Penalties could include fines and jail time.

A new management board led by the deputy secretary of Defense is meeting monthly to ensure that new investments are aligned with the outcomes the business enterprise architecture envisions.

Such councils "don't mean anything unless somebody at the top wants them to mean something," said Dov Zakheim, a former DOD comptroller. But acting deputy secretary of Defense "Gordon England wants this to mean something. The guy is probably the first true chief operating officer of the Pentagon in many, many years."

— David Perera

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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