Navy Rear Adm. Nancy Norton joined the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) as the vice director Aug. 11.
She expressed excitement regarding joining the DISA team, where she will provide leadership and oversight of an 8,000-member global organization and manage an $11 billion annual budget.
“I am really pleased to be here and honored to have a role in supporting [DISA Director Army Lt. Gen. Alan R. Lynn] in leading this organization. It is an honor to be selected to serve as the vice director and to work with this wonderful workforce,” she said.
Norton’s focus is on ensuring warfighters have the information and cyber tools they need to succeed on the battlefield. She believes DISA’s value lies in our ability to provide mission assurance and resolve information technology and communications challenges quickly, enabling warfighters to remain focused on their core mission, a perspective which has evolved from 30 years of experience serving in information warfare billets at all levels.
She shared her three top priorities, which nest within the DISA strategic objectives:
- Ensure the lethality of the DoD.
- Build a joint network that is both maneuverable and mobile.
- Shape an agile workforce that can adjust requirements and systems to meet changing warfighter requirements.
“We [also] need to get the basics of cyber hygiene right,” she said. “We still have an awful lot of work [to do] across the DoD, and well beyond that, in the federal and commercial sectors and across the board in industry [to keep our systems safe].”
Norton said she has often turned to DISA for timely, efficient, and dynamic support, and cited an example from when she served as the commander of the Navy telecommunications station in Bahrain from 2004 to 2005.
“We found out that two diverse paths, one over land and one over sea, converged in one spot and there was an outage in that spot. So, we basically lost all terrestrial communications and had nothing but [satellite communications],” she said.
Norton’s unit was tasked to work with DISA Central Field Command to restore the circuit.
“As a team, we engineered a truly diverse path and solved the problem,” said Norton, who said the joint effort was “absolutely crucial” in providing communication capability to troops in the U.S. Central Command theater.
Resolution of the outage was a big success story for both organizations, and the experience informed follow-on procedures and best practices. Afterward, DISA took the initiative to increase redundancy, eliminate single points of failure, and improve circuit resiliency, especially in critical operational areas.
When she received word that she was selected for the vice directorship, Norton’s first call was to retired Navy Rear Adm. Elizabeth A. Hight, who served as DISA’s vice director from 2007 to 2008.
Norton had worked as Hight’s executive assistant, and wanted to talk with her about the position and gain some insight on how to succeed.
“Not only is [Hight] a great leader,” Norton said, “but she has an incredible ability to translate technology and technical speak to warfighters and customers in a language they can understand. That is something I have always admired of her and hope I am able to emulate as much as possible. The other thing that I really appreciate about her, and what I think was key to her success when she was vice director for DISA, is she is really good at listening to people — good news and bad news — pulling out the thorny issues and enabling people to talk openly and give opposing views.”
Norton, a native of Oregon, is well-versed in the subjects she will speak to warfighters, customers, and industry partners about as vice director.
She graduated from Portland State University with a bachelor’s degree in general science and holds master’s degrees in computer science from the Naval Postgraduate School, and in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College — where she was the President’s Honor Graduate.
She keeps up with the evolving cyber landscape and the art and science of strategic change by reading. Books she recommends include:
- iWar: War and Peace in the Information Age by Bill Gertz.
- Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War by P. W. Singer and August Cole.
- Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know by P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman.
- Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel.
- Who Says Elephants Can't Dance: Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change by Louis V. Gerstner Jr.
Norton said Gerstner’s book shows the value of developing a workforce that is dynamic, forward thinking, and agile enough to adapt to changing requirements.
Norton also said the Navy values — honor, courage, and commitment — guide her approach to her work and workplace relationships, and believes they will contribute to the success of the DISA team during her tenure.
“It is important to me,” she said, “for the workforce to understand that in my view the only way we can accomplish our global mission is if we are committed to the ideal that we must treat each other with dignity and respect. I can already tell that the professionalism of the DISA workforce is boundless and I look forward to working with all of you as we strive to accomplish the many missions that the DoD and this nation has asked us to do.”