Defense brass tells Hill reasons for shutting CIO office

Combat commanders do not know which organization to ask for IT solutions, but industry worries the changes could lead to the top tech position not having the authority to manage systems properly.

Because the Defense Department has had trouble keeping up with advances in information technology, it decided to eliminate layers of bureaucracy that manage computer networks essential to operations in the Information Age, two of the department's top officials told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Armed Services Committee that "multiple organizations on multiple staffs at multiple layers of our hierarchy exist to oversee IT," leading to a difficult to understand bureaucracy with unclear responsibilities. The result is combat commanders "simply do not understand what organization they need to visit to get their work executed," he said.

Cartwright, who testified with Defense Deputy Secretary William Lynn III, said the department must change the way it manages IT to fight enemies who are increasingly enabled with IT.

In August, Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed restructuring Defense IT organizations as part of a streamlining and cost-cutting initiative to save $100 billion during the next five years. The plan includes eliminating the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration, the organization in which Defense's chief information officer resides.

Cartwright said Defense wanted to remove duplication of IT management, which meant not only closing ASD/NII, but also moving the command-and-control organization of the Joint Staff and portions of IT groups in the Joint Forces Command to the new U.S. Cyber Command.

The CIO functions in those organizations will transfer to what Cartwright called a new and "strengthened" overall Defense CIO position.

Air Force Lt. Col. Rene White, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the CIO will report directly to the secretary, with "umbrella responsibility for daily operations" provided by the Defense Information Systems Agency. Defense canceled the appearance of Teresa "Teri" Takai, California's chief information officer, at her planned nomination hearing in August due to the restructuring effort.

Trey Hodgkins, vice president for national security and procurement policy for the IT industry association TechAmerica, said he is concerned that conflicts could arise between the CIO's statutory role under the Clinger-Cohen Act, which gives the CIO oversight of IT management, and DISA's role in acquiring networks and operating them.

He said he wondered how strong the new CIO position would be compared to the previous one, which also served as an assistant secretary.

Lynn called for consolidation of the Defense IT infrastructure, but provided few details. White said Gates has appointed a task force that will develop consolidation plans and deliver a report no later within six months 120 days.

Hodgkins said the changes will require the CIO to have a seat with the top managers as well as amity and authority over the services' chief information officers, who have multiple organizations beneath them that independently acquire IT hardware, software and services.

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