Shrinking budgets may be a blessing for DoD IT

In the Defense department, the goal of consolidating tens of thousands of IT systems and networks into a more manageable structure is not exactly new. But some ...

By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

Although no agency particularly welcomes the prospect of being told to do more with less, static or shrinking budgets may be a blessing in disguise, information technology leaders in the Defense Department say.

Defense budgets have been on an upward slope for the last decade. Teri Takai, the Defense Department’s new chief information officer, said Thursday that now that the trend appears to be over, achieving some of DoD’s enterprise IT architecture goals might be more realistic than ever.

“It’s actually sometimes easier to make hard decisions when budgets are shrinking, because you don’t have the luxury of letting everybody do everything that they always want to do,” Takai said at a breakfast hosted by Input, a market research firm. “If you talk about enterprisewide approaches and standardization and consolidation when there’s lots of money, you will get no audience. Because everybody’s got plenty of money to do exactly what they want to do.”

DoD has asked for $38.4 billion dollars for IT budget in fiscal 2012 and more than 40 percent of that sum is for enterprise infrastructure. But even describing a single IT budget may be slightly misleading. Most of the money is distributed to the individual military services, and Takai said most of it is tied up in large acquisition programs of record.

Her job, meanwhile, is to set a Defense department-wide IT strategy.

“The way the dollars are distributed, that’s a challenge,” she said. “It isn’t like I can sit in my office and put a directive out and everybody runs back to their office and does it. And I don’t have any illusions about that, but by the same token one of the things we’re hearing is that, for folks who really want to move towards more consolidation and more standardization, they’re really looking for us to work with them. There’s nothing that we’re going to do that is not going to be in close collaboration with the services. This is not about my office sitting in a vacuum.”

Takai said DoD’s enterprise IT goals are summed up in three converging areas: effectiveness, efficiency, and cybersecurity. The efficiency component focuses on reducing duplication in DoD’s infrastructure, which today includes 15,000 separate networks, 67,000 servers and 772 data centers.

Rob Carey, DoD’s deputy CIO, speaking at an AFCEA event Friday, also said the budget situation provides a new impetus for IT efficiency.

“It’s forcing us to look at our problem in IT, which has always been about delivering efficiencies,” he said. “Now there’s a laser-like focus on ‘put up or shut up.’ Get the efficiencies delivered in support of the warfighter, and of course a little bit of the bottom line. This has been happening for a few months and we have been working mightily to deliver a way ahead.”

The DoD CIO’s office plans to publish a formal DoD IT enterprise strategy soon, but in the meantime, Carey said they’re focusing on some short term objectives. He said they’re made up of efforts that are already underway, including data center consolidation, network optimization, enterprise identity management, enterprise email, and enterprise hardware and software management.

Takai said the CIO’s office faces plenty of technical challenges as it tackles those objectives, but there are non-technical ones as well, including the fact that more than 60 percent of DoD’s IT budget is controlled by the individual military services.

“There is an importance around being able to understand how we can utilize the different colors of money to get to the enterprise approaches we want to take,” she said. “That is a challenge. How are we going to be able to blend the various funding sources to do what we need to do?”

The Pentagon has suggested Congress create a single IT appropriation for DoD as well as some added budget flexibility. Takai said any transition to a more agile, rapid approach to IT spending would have to ensure that DoD was accountable to Congress for its spending.

This story is part of Federal News Radio’s daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.

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