Army enterprise e-mail, DOD cloud: What happens next?

As far as legislation goes, it was a stunning turn of events: Tucked inside the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act is language halting some of the Defense Department’s most ambitious IT efforts.

According to the provisions, the Army’s enterprise e-mail program will be defunded pending its designation as a formal acquisition program and a renewed, in-depth review, and DOD’s transition to cloud services through the Defense Information Systems Agency will stop and the department will be ordered to focus on commercial options instead.

What does all that mean for the next chapter of defense IT?

It’s been a long road for the government’s move to the cloud, an approach that has come to be seen as the cure-all for Washington’s budgetary malaise. If IT is going to be the driver of federal savings in 2012 and beyond, the cloud is riding shotgun.

With enterprise e-mail and DISA’s establishment as a priority source of cloud services, DOD has largely been steering itself alongside broader federal directives, such as Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel’s mandates on data center consolidation. But under the authorization act’s provisions, Congress has sought to wrest control.

That could be both a good thing and a bad thing.

“The [act’s] language in some ways is beneficial for the initiatives [DOD CIO Teri Takai] has been trying to drive and fits into some of the larger, governmentwide initiatives around ‘cloud first’ and data center consolidation,” said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for national security and procurement policy at TechAmerica. “But it also disrupts the planning that was going on both at the Army and DISA. And there probably are a number of other entities that were looking at the DISA-provided cloud functionality. So all those things that were in motion are now suspended.”

On the one hand, the time-out will force DOD to sort responsibilities, set up more collaborative and deliberative planning, and establish governance for programs that would likely require significant upfront investment.

“It appears as though Congress wants to make sure that the acquisition processes and procedures, which equate to checks and balances, for major expenditures are exercised in order to ensure DOD is going down the right path,” said Gary Winkler, former program executive officer for enterprise information systems at the Army and founder of Cyber Solutions and Services.

Hodgkins said Congress might be looking to empower the DOD CIO's office after authorities were restructured under former Defense Secretary Robert Gates just before he retired.

“The genesis of this legislation was in the broader government effort to drive…IT efficiencies through management and acquisition reform,” Hodgkins said. “DOD and the intelligence community were reported to be able to save billions potentially by taking advantage of those things, but there were some issues with the authority being unclear.”

The obstacles ahead

On the other hand, the legislation puts the department way behind schedule in an area of procurement that is especially sensitive to turnaround time. Will the technology withstand such a delay, or will DOD continually be one or two evolutions behind?

After all, if the programs in question are put out for bid to the private sector, DOD would have to spend time identifying requirements, conducting market research and carrying out all the due diligence required of a major acquisition program. By that time, the leaders behind DOD’s cloud efforts and the Army’s enterprise e-mail — Takai and Army CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, respectively — might not even be in those roles anymore, as Robert Guerra, a partner at federal consulting firm Guerra Kiviat, pointed out.

“The question becomes: Who’s going to be the champion?” Guerra said. “If a program doesn’t have a champion behind it, it’s going nowhere.”

As Congress brings DOD’s drive toward the cloud to a screeching halt, a fog of uncertainty obscures the road ahead.

“This was designed to empower DOD and create some metrics that can be used to really get at the savings we’ve seen all the agencies talk about — the billions of savings they all believe they can achieve if they can do robust data center consolidation and robust cloud technology adoption,” Hodgkins said. “The devil will be in the details.”

About the Author

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

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