What's Brewin: DISA and Travelocity

Agency’s director pushes Web services and muses about retirement plans.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, has spent his three-year tour trying to convince the agency to adopt commercial Web models to push out information to warfighters. He frequently cites the Travelocity reservation site as a prime example of the one-stop shop he would like to develop for the Defense Department.

Comment on this article in The Forum.When he first took over at DISA, Croom told me that Travelocity served as a good model for Defense's next-generation command-and-control system, called the Net-Enabled Command Capability. Croom said users can do everything they need to on Travelocity to prepare for a trip: reserve a flight, a hotel and a rental car all through one easy-to-use interface. He envisions NECC offering similar services to warfighters.

It's fitting then that Robert Wiseman, chief technology officer of Sabre Holdings, which operates Travelocity, is one of the keynote speakers at the annual DISA customer partnership conference, which will start May 5 in Orlando, Fla.

Warren Suss, founder of Suss Consulting, said he believes DISA will address a related issue at the conference: How to make its commitment to service oriented architecture real by taking it beyond the "vision thing" stage. SOA, Suss said, will help DISA cut its application development costs and push new applications faster to users.

Croom's Next Act

Croom will retire officially in September, and he told me that he is looking for a job in industry -- not any job but one that "I can be passionate about, and be surrounded by people who share the same passion."

I think he will have to look someplace besides Cisco Systems, which may have reached its quota of three-star generals. The company hired former Army chief information officer and retired Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle in November as vice president of its Global Government Solutions Group.

Managing DISA is a challenging job, but Croom said during the past three years, "I have fallen in love with this DISA family and therefore am very biased. These government workers are spending 13 hours a day, day after day trying to get capability out to the warfighter."

DISA needs to satisfy the demands of a huge Defense bureaucracy "that makes it difficult to do anything with speed, and these [DISA] folks continue to stay on the battlefield hammering away."

There's Always Journalism

If he can't get an industry job, Croom joked with me that he might "goof off and write a tech column for some of the industry IT rags. . . . Seems like it's an easy living and doesn't require any special talent."

I wonder if he has been reading the renowned journalist and press critic Walter Lippman, who once remarked, "Journalism is the last refuge of the vaguely talented."

Navy Eyes WiMax/WiFi for Guam

As the native speakers in Guam say, "Hafa Adai." (Loosely translated: "Hello," although the meaning goes deeper than that.)

The Government Accountability Office reported on Thursday that the infrastructure on the island of Guam -- including roads and power systems -- is ill-equipped to handle by 2014 a planned influx of 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents to the land "Where America's Day Begins."

The Marines are not the only service planning a big Guam buildup. The Navy intends to enhance its facilities on the island to support a transient carrier group, and the Air Force expects to develop a global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance hub at Andersen Air Force Base. The Army plans to base a ballistic-missile Defense task force on the island as well. All these projects will require a $13 billion investment and drastically alter what was once a pretty and sleepy place.

All these outfits will require a complex communications infrastructure. Jeff Huskey, CIO for Commander at the Naval Installations Command, told me this year that a combination of long-range wireless WiMax systems and short-range Wi-Fi wireless systems could do the job cheaper and faster than stringing a lot of fiber-optic cable.

Using wireless also will eliminate the possibility of the dreaded brown tree snakes eating up cables.

A Judge With a Sense of Humor

The trial over whether or not the Veterans Administration has neglected the mental health needs of veterans -- which resulted in what Veterans for Common Sense, which filed the lawsuit, views as an epidemic of suicides -- ended April 30 in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Francisco.

Judge Samuel Conti is not expected to issue his ruling for a number of weeks. It's hard to determine how he will adjudicate the case, in which the plaintiffs asked him to compel VA to provide better mental health care for veterans. One thing you can garner from reading transcripts of the trial and pretrial hearings, however, is Conti appears to be a judge who does not take himself seriously and has a rather wry sense of humor.

As Heather Moser, an associate with the Morrrison & Foerster law firm, which represents Veterans for Common Sense, speeded through a slew of legal citations in a pretrial hearing, Conti repeatedly told her to slow down. She ignored his pleas. Finally, to get Moser's attention, Conti told her, "We have plenty of time. . . . I get paid by the year, not the case."