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Funding bill nudges military to unify systems

In its version of the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee used its oversight capability to push the military services to transition from stovepiped command-and-control systems to a new joint system, such as the Net Enabled Command and Control System under development by the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The committee used its funding power to pressure the Army, Navy and Air Force to sign on to a joint system like DISA's by slicing $1 million from each of the budget requests for their systems -- the Global Command and Control System-Army, the Navy's Global Command, and Control System-Maritime -- bringing those programs to $11.9 million, $127.7 million and $2.2 million, respectively.

Citing concern over a lack of commitment by the services to transition from stovepiped command-and-control systems to a joint architecture, the report said, "The services can no longer sustain a multitude of disparate systems from a technical management or financial perspective. Yet there appears to be no clear strategy articulated to senior decision-makers showing how the services will move from multiple independent systems to a joint, federated approach."

This approach "does not necessarily entail adopting a single system, but until the services commit to a unified approach to commonality, the military services will continue to waste funds and inhibit the benefits accrued by jointness," the report added.

The committee also said it believed the Army faces a "significant risk" in fielding on time the complex battlefield network needed to stitch together vehicle and sensor systems in its ambitious $15 billion Future Combat Systems program.

The committee recognized that the Army had made some progress in developing the Future Combat Systems network, but the report noted, "given the current lack of clear requirements, mature technology and progress on vital complementary programs necessary to develop the network on schedule, the committee notes that there is significant risk that delays in achieving the FCS network could lead to fielding of FCS manned ground vehicles without the FCS network support the Army considers essential."

The Government Accountability Office reported in March that the number of lines of software code the Army needed to develop for its Future Combat Systems program tripled to 95.1 million since 2003, and "it is not yet clear if or when the information network, which is at the heart of the FCS concept, can be developed, built and demonstrated."

On personnel issues, the committee report expressed concern about the Defense Department's ability to compete with commercial firms and academia in attracting and retaining an information technology workforce. The panel suggested wounded service members who are unable to serve in the field would make ideal candidates for those billets.

Recruitment and retention of a high-quality Defense IT workforce in competition with industry and universities is of particular concern to the House committee in an era when such a workforce is needed to support increasingly networked forces.

The panel directed the secretary of Defense to conduct an IT workforce analysis and deliver a report within 120 days on the number of IT billets in the department, how many of those positions are filled and the adequacy of the workforce pipeline.

The committee said it believed service members wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq "would be excellent candidates to support information technology, scientific or engineering activities" and directed the Defense secretary to conduct a study on retraining them to work in these fields.

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