The bright side of budget cuts

Fiscal pressures are forcing the military branches to collaborate and share, potentially leading to smarter, better IT projects, leaders say.

As budget cut fever sweeps the federal government, some Defense Department officials say it could actually lead to better collaboration and improved IT.

The fiscal pressures DOD faces can bring about benefits, bringing together the services to share resources and thereby further integrate operations, according to DOD officials who spoke Aug. 28 at the AFCEA Warfighter IT Day in Vienna, Va.

“Resources are going down – which is actually good for IT,” said Mike Krieger, Army deputy CIO/G-6. “Whatever we do in the Army now, especially on the IT side, we have to do a cost-benefit analysis.”

The shrinking resources are also forcing military leadership to take a closer look at what they already have and reconsider what can still prove useful – and to use what they’ve got to get where they need to be, they said.

“While I argue we are going into a very difficult budget environment, I don't necessarily see that as the glass half-empty,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert E. Wheeler, deputy CIO for command, control, communications and computers (C4) and information infrastructure in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “I argue that the glass is half full.”

DOD leaders are looking to IT as a touchstone, and are focused on achieving a single, enterprise network approach that links the entire military together, catalyzing cooperation while also saving money and boosting national security in the cyber realm, the officials said.

“There has never been and never will be more importance placed on the network. There has never been and never will be a greater threat to our network,” Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman, director of command control, communications and computers (J6) at the Joint Staff. “We’re going to change with the times as we need to at the time and drive toward a future where we operate as an enterprise, as opposed to a constellation. This is our mission.”

At the heart of that mission is the joint information enterprise (JIE), a concept built on joint efforts the military already has under way, including data center consolidation, enterprise e-mail and other cloud capabilities. He acknowledged it’s a complex and difficult undertaking, noting that it “dwarfs the complexity associated with Joint Strike Fighter or any other big program.” The JIE isn't a program, he emphasized -- it's a combination of programs and efforts designed for interoperability across DOD.

In keeping with the streamlining approach, Bowman stressed that the JIE and the major parts comprising it, such as the so-called future mission network, will largely be built from commercial off-the-shelf technologies (COTS), not proprietary solutions. It’s an idea that will become a department-wide approach in its partnership with industry, he noted.

“We’re looking for COTS as much as we can find it. The enemy is using COTS; we can’t have them ahead of us,” Bowman said. Less-than-perfect solutions have been fielded and adapted to become game-changers, he added.

“Perfect is 60 (percent) to 80 percent to me," he said. "If we can do 60, 70 or 80 percent now and evolve over time… there will be a whole lot more players in the game, a lot more competition and in the end a much better country for it.”

The JIE is also foundational in improving U.S. cybersecurity posture, noted Rear Adm. David Simpson, DISA's vice director. He said the enterprise approach is critical in overcoming DOD’s disparate networks, systems and approaches.

“All our firewalls didn’t improve security – the only thing they really did was give us a false sense of security,” Simpson said. “As we go forward, we believe that the single-point-of-information environment, and building that environment as a platform, allows us to define the enemy’s lines of approach…but also to spot insider threat activity across the entire environment. The ability to see across that entire space is absolutely critical.”