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CHIPS Articles: DISA Leaders Discuss Agency’s Efforts to Evolve

DISA Leaders Discuss Agency’s Efforts to Evolve
By DISA News - June 22, 2015
According to Air Force Lt Gen Ronnie D. Hawkins, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the organization is focused on delivering capabilities in five major areas, which he refers to as “the 5 C’s.” They are: cloud, collaboration, cyber, and command and control (C2).

Executive-level leaders from across the agency spoke about how the agency is evolving to support warfighter and national-level leader demand for the 5 C’s during a panel discussion at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium on June 18.

Culture

• “I have my own 5 C’s that I talk about when it comes to supporting these capabilities,” said Tony Montemarano, the agency’s executive deputy director. “They are culture, cooperation, confusion, contracting, and cost.” Montemarano said the key to supporting capabilities lies with people and resources. “You have to come to grips with how you are going to actually execute [the capability and its delivery],” he said.

• “We have to break through the perception that [DISA] costs more and is slow to deliver,” said Martin Gross, vice director of DISA’s Implementation and Sustainment Center. “We have to be able to deliver when our customer says they need something. That requires a flexible contracting approach, and flexibility from our partners in industry.”

• “We’re trying to make sure the culture in DISA is oriented toward being responsive and accountable to the mission partner, especially the combatant commanders,” said Montemarano.

Acquisition Strategy

• Gross said the way DISA delivers capabilities has fundamentally changed. “We no longer have the capital investment dollars to build our own systems,” he said. “Now, we’re looking at […] capabilities that already exist in the public sector. We are not going to build anymore; we’re looking at partnerships with industry, especially for infrastructure and commodity-type capabilities, such as computing and communications infrastructure.”

• “We’re really trying to get best value in our acquisitions,” said Gross. “Our contracts don’t just ask ‘What are you going to give us?’ They also ask, ‘What else can you do to give us better value and drive down our costs?’”

• “No more requirements!” said David Stickley, the agency’s services executive. “We need to be talking about capabilities instead. I’ve seen so many places that we put a great capability in place and only use a small slice of it because of the requirements definition.” Stickley said DISA’s industry partners should “help us get more out of those capabilities that we’ve already paid for and make the best of our limited tax dollars.”

• “We’re also trying to look at our contracts and gain efficiencies where there are multiple contracts performing the same type of work,” said Montemarano. “We are perpetually in a prioritization process. We are knocking down stovepipes, looking at things cold and clear, and saying, ‘is this necessary anymore?’”

Evolving the Infrastructure and Seeking Innovation

• Jessie Showers, who oversees DISA’s Infrastructure Directorate, likened the support his organization provides for the 5 C’s to the foundation, electrical wiring, and plumbing in a home. “You don’t want to know we’re there, but we have to be there,” he said. In order to better support capability delivery, Showers said DISA is working to move from a circuit-based telecommunications infrastructure to an Internet Protocol (IP)-based infrastructure. “We are beginning to blur the lines between communications routed through a Defense Enterprise Computing Center and communications routed through the telecom network,” he said. “We want those infrastructures to come together so that we have one infrastructure.”

• One of the challenges DISA faces is finding ways to introduce innovative technologies as budgets decrease, said Jack Wilmer, infrastructure development executive. “We have to take a step back and look differently at the problem,” he said, referencing cybersecurity in particular. Wilmer cited harnessing the commercial cloud via cloud access points as one way DISA is working to bring innovation into the DOD.

Focus on the Goal: A Joint Information Environment

• "The number one focus for the Joint Information Environment (JIE) right now is to get the military departments and joint agencies together in a common defensible environment,” said Montemarano, referencing the implementation of Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS). Wilmer echoed the importance of the effort. “Consolidating base, post, camp, and station security stacks into a regional footprint is the cornerstone of the Joint Information Environment,” he said.

• “I have never seen all the military services and DISA work so closely together to form a solution in the best interests of our combatant commanders as I have with the JRSS,” said Montemarano, referencing the effort to condense DOD’s security infrastructure into regionally-based platforms.

• Wilmer said JRSS was also a great example of the way DISA is bringing capabilities to the field through partnerships with industry. “JRSS is a series of procurements, not a government developed thing,” he said. “We put requests for information (RFIs) out to industry to find out what the ‘art of the possible’ is. DISA isn’t just engaging with industry in the traditional sense; we really want to harness commercial capabilities and commercial innovation.”

• Stickley, who is responsible for managing DISA’s internal network, the DISANet, said he’s taking a “DISA First” approach to JIE and JRSS. “I’m trying to transition all of the DISANet capabilities to the JRSS and JIE construct,” he said.

Lt Gen Ronnie D. Hawkins, Jr., Director, Defense Information Systems Agency and Commander, Joint Force Headquarters – Department of Defense Information Networks (DODIN), Fort Meade, Md.
Lt Gen Ronnie D. Hawkins, Jr., Director, Defense Information Systems Agency and Commander, Joint Force Headquarters – Department of Defense Information Networks (DODIN), Fort Meade, Md.
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