Should DOD be taking more risks with mobility?

DOD's intrinsic risk aversion challenges its ability to stay current with mobile capabilities, and some of its leaders believe it's time to rethink that caution.

It’s become a common problem in the government, particularly the Defense Department: Almost as soon as a new technology is deployed, it’s made obsolete by some newer advancement in the commercial sector. And because agencies often move fairly slowly in making technology choices and getting through the procurement process, technologies are often already outmoded by the time agency employees get them.

With mounting budget pressure and fewer funds available for cutting-edge goods, technological advancement can be that much more difficult.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, according to a panel of DOD officials who spoke June 25 at an AFCEA DC event in Arlington, Va.

In fact, the fiscal constraints, combined with an increasing focus on mobile, offer a unique opportunity for being creative and taking risks, the panelists said.

“The lack of money now and budget cuts we’re experiencing are forcing a lot of thinking that hasn’t happened before because we had money. We have to think about things now and do them more purposefully,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Greg Brundidge, director of command, control, communications and warfighting integration at U.S. European Command headquarters.

While DOD is notoriously wary of risk, striking a balance between caution and gamble may be part of the answer to the question of how the department can keep up with the technological edge with fewer resources. It’s especially critical as DOD implements plans to increase mobile capabilities, which indisputably carry a number of risks, including security.

“We’ve been talking about accepting risk and mitigating risk for years, but we always fall back to the black and white. We’ve got to embrace risk acceptance and risk mitigation and get on with it,” said John Wilcox, director of communications and CIO, U.S. Special Operations Command.

It starts with determining the right risks to take – and the right reasons to take them.

“There are some folks out there who are, admittedly, still very risk-averse to some of the new technology. I believe we have to moderate risk,” said Brig. Gen. Gregory Touhill, director of command, control, communications and computer systems, U.S. Transportation Command. “It boils down to: Is it feasible, acceptable, suitable and affordable? That’s what we have to think about in inserting technologies.”

That consideration will have to start soon, as the role of mobile is growing at an exponential rate – particularly in places it hasn’t been used before.

“We see mobility as the future…not just in an administrative function, but in a warfighting function, in a [command and control] function. We need secure and non-secure capabilities, where from the garrison to the objective we can use the same device,” Wilcox said. “It all comes back to risk mitigation, risk acceptance and risk understanding. You have to know exactly how far you can push that. But mobility is the wave of the future; that’s where we’re going.”

NEXT STORY: DOD cyber expert heads to DHS

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