Navy IT Official: Laws Aren’t Flexible Enough for Emerging Technology

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110524-N-GS507-210 , ... ] U.S. Navy

Technology is evolving too rapidly for legal policies to keep up, and it’s hindering the military’s ability to meet its mission, the Navy's deputy CIO says.

Technology is evolving too rapidly for legal policies to keep up, and it’s hindering the military’s ability to meet its mission.

“The biggest challenge we have fiscally is the law is just not agile enough and won’t keep pace, and I don’t see it doing that any time soon with the way technology evolves,” said U.S. Navy Deputy Chief Information Officer Janice Haith.

Speaking at an event hosted by ImmixGroup on Tuesday, Haith said the Navy is in the middle of a third revision of its IT strategy in hopes of maximizing the use of emerging technologies like cloud computing, but said outdated federal acquisition regulations and laws “make it a struggle” for the military to stay on the cutting edge.

The Navy, she said, has reduced the number of on-shore data centers from roughly 500 to fewer than 160 and is in the midst of narrowing down 8,000 applications by about half -- many of which are moving slowly to the cloud.

Off-shore, the Navy is devising better strategies for how to up the capabilities of its 368 ships, each of which effectively operates as its own data center and enterprise when at sea.

Yet, the Navy has been stymied by Congress’ inability to pass meaningful legislation that makes it easier for the military to go after and implement new technologies.

“I go up on the Hill and try to explain to these staffers, and they say, ‘Well, we know we need to do this, but…, ” Haith said.

Inquiries to Congress submitted in January may not be answered until August, which Haith said is a hectic time for federal agencies looking to make a final spending push before a new budget cycle begins in October.

Proposed legislation, like the Cloud IT Act introduced by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., would offer an improved security-vetting process for agency cloud providers that service civilian and military customers.

But Haith said it’s likely the law might never completely catch up to technology. In other words, requiring -- and waiting for -- new laws to govern each version of the next big thing might be an exercise in futility.

A better bet, she said, might be for Congress to build in more flexibility for the government to make use of emerging technologies. That may open the government to increased risk, but it might also open other doors.

“There are some things we need to do that Congress is going to have to accept that this is a new world, things have changed,” Haith said. “If you want us to protect the constituency, you have to give us some ability to maneuver. We don’t have that maneuverability.”