Wennergren move throws DOD CIO spot into further shadow

DOD CIO nomination withdrawn and deputy CIO gets new job -- what’s next?

With the announcement that Dave Wennergren will become assistant deputy chief management officer in the Secretary of Defense's office, the future of the Defense Department's chief information officer position has become even murkier.

Secretary Robert Gates muddied the waters when he presented a sweeping reorganization plan that, among other things, shutters Joint Forces Command and moves the CIO position into the Defense Information Systems Agency. Then the nomination of California CIO Teri Takai was withdrawn, leaving unanswered the question of whether officials no longer want her in the role or if it was just an administrative move in keeping with Gates' reorganization strategy -- which is, at this point, just a proposal.

The post has been vacant since the George W. Bush administration.

Gates has said DOD's CIO role will be “strengthened” and shifted to DISA, but the details end there. Under Gates' proposal, which aims to trim $100 billion in DOD spending over the next five years, positions are in jeopardy in the offices of the assistant secretary of defense (Networks and Information Integration) and in the Joint Forces Command, the Joint Staff’s section for command, control, communications and computer systems, and the Business Transformation Agency, all of which are scheduled for closing.

Wennergren had been deputy assistant secretary of defense, information management, integration and technology, and deputy CIO in OSD. Because the CIO position is mandatory, Wennergren won't be serving as CIO as deputy assistant chief management officer.

The withdrawal of Takai's nomination appears to be in keeping with the current holding pattern across much of DOD’s personnel, acquisition and budgets.

“In light of the secretary’s initiative to reduce overhead and achieve efficiencies, we're reviewing the entire organizational structure,” said Lt. Col. Rene White, a DOD spokesperson. “While we were examining any number of options and avenues for the best way forward, we also determined that it was best not to go forward with Ms. Takai’s confirmation hearing, until bottom line decisions are made" on how best to institute a strengthened CIO position. 

According to White, the freeze will continue while DOD works out how Gates’ measures will be implemented, and that work has no apparent timeline.

“Bottom-line decisions are still to be made on how to shut down NII and J6 [the Joint Staff’s command, control, communications and computer directorate]; consolidate our IT infrastructure facilities; and stand up a refashioned and strengthened chief information officer,” White said.

But because the DOD CIO job is mandated, it won’t face the closures of other jobs and offices.

"There will still be a CIO reporting to the [defense secretary]. Under its umbrella, responsibility for daily operations will be assigned to the DISA. The CIO will leverage DISA resources,” White said.

Gates’ budget cutting moves have gotten pushback from Capitol Hill. On Sept. 28, a panel of top DOD officials that did not include Gates faced Senate grilling about the plans; Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said his state will suffer from closing the Joint Forces Command headquarters in the Norfolk area. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also complained that the budgetary decisions are being made without proper consideration and transparency.

Related stories:

DOD officials face Senate ire over budgetary measures
Gates' budget-cutting plan leaves Defense CIO role in limbo
Gates details plans to slash DOD budget
Wennergren's new job announcement

"The present lack of transparency and consultation, particularly with our delegation, [stands] in stark contrast with how these decisions are typically made," Webb said.

"It appears that there [were] inadequate analysis and inadequate openness in the procedure that preceded the August announcement," said Levin, noting that he was disappointed with the lack of details provided in the weeks after the plans were released.

But according to White, careful, ongoing analysis is a chief concern as DOD explores how to implement Gates’ plans.

“Analysis indicates that removing these functions from NII and J6 and consolidating them within other existing organizations will likely increase overall effectiveness and save money,” White said. “The Task Force working group is developing options to determine the best allocation strategy to achieve the goals of meeting operational needs, improving security and prudent fiscal management.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.


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