Stenbit's successor faces challenge of carrying through transformation
When John Stenbit first served as the Defense Department's top communications official during the Nixon and Ford administrations, warfighters waited days — sometimes weeks — for intelligence. In his second stint at the Pentagon some 20 years later, he said the military is somewhat "still in that mode."
As Stenbit readies to depart as DOD's senior information technology official, the key task for his successor will be implementing the transformed, networked armed services that Stenbit has made his rallying call.
Stenbit, assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration and chief information officer, is preparing to end that second tour of duty, according to insiders who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. In a Sept. 3 interview, Stenbit said he plans to leave his job "sooner rather than later."
Stenbit said he has neither resigned nor retired, "but I've always let it be known that I wanted to go back into retirement and spend more time with my grandchildren."
Insiders say the former TRW Inc. executive is waiting for the Bush administration to name his replacement and that he wants to see the fiscal 2004 and 2005 DOD IT budgets through the appropriations process. He also is interested in some upcoming data-sharing experiments and contract awards — including the $500 million Global Information Grid-Bandwidth Expansion contract, which could be awarded within the next month.
Stenbit has said new military IT programs and industry technologies are getting intelligence more quickly to commanders and troops. He said department personnel also now understand why the armed services need to send and receive information globally.
"I've been shouting at the top of my lungs in the Pentagon what is obvious to everyone outside it," Stenbit said, speaking to attendees Aug. 25 in Montgomery, Ala., at the Air Force IT Conference.
The challenge for his successor will be furthering the military's transformation to a lighter, rapidly deployable force.
Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc., said populating the network with suitable technology to defeat any future enemy will be a challenge that continues after Stenbit leaves.
"The next generation of challenges includes things like sensor integration that can get information to the edge," Suss said.
Loren Thompson, chief operating officer for the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank, said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Stenbit's transformation initiatives could increase the military's vulnerabilities.
"The problem is we increasingly are relying on commercial standards and technologies, which are accessible and becoming well understood by our adversaries," Thompson said.
He suggested that Stenbit's successor establish IT programs that anticipate all the ways in which enemies could exploit U.S. military networks.
Stenbit's departure did not catch many people off guard. The admission "is not a surprise," a House Armed Services Committee staff person said last week. The aide said Stenbit cherished his intelligence oversight responsibilities and was disappointed when they were taken away in May. Top DOD officials reorganized his office for command, control, communications and intelligence into networks and information integration. A new undersecretary's office for intelligence was then formed.
Educated as an electrical engineer, Stenbit developed advanced satellite surveillance systems for TRW beginning in 1968.
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