Mattis Opposes Splitting Defense CIO Duties

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Andrew Harnik/AP

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The defense secretary’s letter also objects to a requirement that the Defense Department notify other nations before responding to cyber threats.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wants to roll back part of the Senate’s annual defense policy bill that would force major changes to the Pentagon’s chief information officer shop, according to a Thursday letter to Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain.

The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act would split the duties of the Defense Department chief information officer between an existing chief management officer and a newly created chief information warfare officer.

While that split’s not necessarily a bad idea, it’s “premature” right now, Mattis wrote in a letter obtained by Politico.

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“I ask for your help in allowing the department time to onboard senior leaders, implement previously mandated changes, and bring needed reforms to the department,” Mattis wrote.

John Zangardi, formerly the Pentagon’s principal deputy CIO, has served as acting CIO since March when Terry Halvorsen stepped down. The White House has yet to nominate a permanent replacement.

Mattis also objected to part of the Senate bill that requires the U.S., whenever possible, to notify other nations when third-party cyber threats transit or rely on their networks. The U.S. should also urge those nations to tackle the threats before the U.S. gets involved, the bill states.

That requirement amounts to a “conventional approach” to an “unconventional problem” and could inhibit Defense’s ability to “take decisive action,” Mattis wrote.

Mattis’ letter also objects to the continuing budget caps required by sequestration and urges an additional Base Realignment and Closure round that is not called for in the Senate or House versions of the policy bill.

A new BRAC round in 2021 could save the department $2 billion annually, Mattis wrote.

Military base closures are typically a difficult sell in Congress where members worry about lost jobs and commercial activity when bases close in their districts.

Mattis also opposes the creation of a space corps within the Air Force—an element of the House version of the legislation—saying it would add unnecessary bureaucracy when the military is trying to reduce overhead and better integrate its various functions.