A senior-leader panel discussion about the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA) and Joint Force Headquarters - DOD Information Networks’ (JFHQ-DODIN) 2017 priorities was the highlight of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s District of Columbia chapter breakfast Jan. 12.
Tony Montemarano, DISA’s executive deputy director, led the panel, which included Alfred Rivera, director of the Development and Business Center; John Hickey, director of the Cyber Development Directorate; David Bennett, director of the Operations Center; and Air Force Brig Gen Robert Skinner, deputy commander of JFHQ-DODIN.
Opening the discussion, Montemarano explained how current budgetary restrictions have led DISA to shift its future business focus toward buying versus creating solutions.
“DISA operates now in a mode of ‘adopt before you buy, buy before you create,’” Montemarano said. “We are adopting and we are buying. Very, very few things are we actually creating. Anytime we do anything at DISA, we have to come up with an innovative way of doing it.”
Taking the topic of innovation further, Rivera spoke about the agency’s focus on next-generation engineering, generating more engagement with partners, developing a common DODIN laboratory, and preparing for announcements and discussions of Encore III and Systems Engineering Technology Innovation (SETI) contracts for information technology systems support.
From there, Hickey spoke about DISA’s cyber focus for 2017 and how he and his staff are looking toward fiscal year 2019 and beyond with regard to cyber development.
“I’m putting a plan together on how we can transition, because as Mr. Montemarano said, ‘there is no real, new money,’” Hickey said. “So we need to figure out how to transition capabilities while at the same time maintaining legacy capabilities.”
He emphasized “[We] are looking at what are those tools that we can turn off as we actually move to replace and tech refresh capabilities.”
He also commented on the Joint Regional Security Stacks.
“JRSS is still our number one cyber initiative and we are in the process of fielding it. I think the key over the next year is really training operators on that stack as we transition from a base, camp, station-approach to a more joint approach that gives visibility to JFHQ-DODIN as well as Cyber Command.”
Bennett, who is charged with implementing, sustaining, operating, and defending everything DISA has responsibility for in the DODIN, took over the discussion by stating that his priority for 2017 is to simply “change everything.”
The combination of these responsibilities within the organizational structure, which took effect in 2016, “makes the prioritization of activities, the allocation of resources, as well as the facilitation of change much simpler than it’s ever been,” Bennett said. “So, literally, I mean we are able to change everything.”
As an example, he highlighted the recent change in the way DISA is doing computing – moving from a data center model to one computing ecosystem. That model became fully operational during the second week of January.
“[Moving to the ecosystem] is a huge, monumental change from the agency’s perspective,” Bennett said. “We are changing the lines of business, and how we do the business of computing, so we can become more efficient, more effective, and we can drive our rates down.”
Rounding out the panel’s discussion, Skinner, speaking about JFHQ-DODIN, touched on becoming more effective as an operational-level cyber defense organization, in light of budgetary constraints.
Skinner said one of his priorities is reducing the number of redundant systems and other systems that are too costly to maintain.
“We have so many tools and so many capabilities. We’re at about 50 percent of leveraging the capabilities these tools currently provide,” he said.
From an operational perspective, Skinner asked, “How do we get the right information at the right time?”
“I’m looking for a decision-support type of capability,” he said. “How can we get actionable intelligence from the entire domain up to the right levels to make a decision of how do we maneuver either the domain itself or maneuver forces within the domain to make sure that the domain is favorable to support the combatant commands as they go forward with the mission they’ve been assigned?”
Rounding out the discussion, the panel fielded many questions from the audience.
“The word stovepipe is out of our lexicon,” said Montemarano. “We don’t use that term anymore. We bring things together. We’re homogenizing, to a degree that makes sense. We see this as the way to be more economical and to provide a defensible infrastructure.”