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CHIPS Articles: Defense Digital Service Chief Brings Private-Sector Expertise to Job

Defense Digital Service Chief Brings Private-Sector Expertise to Job
By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity - June 13, 2016
WASHINGTON, June 10, 2016 — Chris Lynch may be the only director of a Defense Department organization who shows up to work wearing a hoodie.

The director of the Defense Digital Service wears the favored outfit from his days in the private sector in his new position in the Pentagon. Today he was part of a panel talking about defending DoD networks at the Defense One Tech Summit here.

Lynch’s office started operations in November. He came in from the White House’s U.S. Digital Service -- a group of private-sector information technology specialists looking to bring best practices from the civilian world into government.

Among the initiatives the office has championed is the recent “Hack the Pentagon” program -- the first federal government “bug bounty,” he said.

“When we came in, we had seen a lot of different approaches,” Lynch said. “Lots of money had been spent on everything from technology [to] the teams that were running the infrastructure, but when you think about it, we spent a lot of time focused on the networks themselves and not necessarily the applications that are running on top of it,” he said. The Defense Digital Service decided to change that.

‘Black Hats’ Don’t Need an Invitation

The bad guys did not wait for the bug bounty to launch attacks, he said, and the DoD system is under constant attack. Lynch said a few years ago, the defense.gov website alone had more than a billion malicious attacks.

“My team is pretty much made up of nongovernment people,” he said. “We’re a little bit like a SWAT team, so we go into things where there is a challenge and help out in whatever way we can.”

Lynch said his group has “some special superpowers” that are unique in the Defense Department. The team uses these abilities to build and ship products to address challenges for very strategic projects, he said.

“We’re not digital security experts per se,” Lynch said. The office acts as a bridge between coders and end users, he explained.

When given a project, the service looks to bring in the best people from the private sector to address the challenges. “Literally, they are going to take a leave of absence or a sabbatical from their job to come join us,” Lynch said. “We call it a tour of duty for nerds.”

One thing all the projects have in common is that they have broad impact, he said. And the service experts can look across the broad spectrum and see other areas where products can be applied, he added.

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Defense Digital Service Director Chris Lynch, right, explains how his office works within the Pentagon during a presentation at the Defense One Tech Summit in Washington, June 10, 2016. DoD photo by Jim Garamone
Defense Digital Service Director Chris Lynch, right, explains how his office works within the Pentagon during a presentation at the Defense One Tech Summit in Washington, June 10, 2016. DoD photo by Jim Garamone
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