Faced with the challenge of finding substantial savings in its technology budget, the Department of the Navy (DON) is turning to industry for ideas on potentially cheaper alternatives to high-cost IT items such as email and data storage.
Terry Halvorsen, the Navy Department’s chief information officer announced earlier that he expected that he’s been told to find “significant” savings in the department’s business IT systems. The goal is to cut business systems and preserve technological capabilities for warfighting in the face of anticipated Defense-wide budget reductions.
On Thursday, Robert Work, the Navy Department’s undersecretary, put some proportion to those savings when he told an AFCEA conference he had ordered Halverson to reduce IT spending on Navy and Marine Corps business systems by 25 percent over the course of DoD’s five-year defense spending plan.
“You don’t get 25 percent by doing what you’re doing more efficiently,” Halverson said. “We have to change the model of the way we are doing business.”
Consequently, there are commercial ideas the department has new interests in. He said the Navy will soon issue requests for information (RFIs) to industry on several topics, including data hosting and commercial enterprise email.
“That means we might be willing to have a discussion that says a private email provider could provide us with our email and our email storage capability, if they could provide it with the minimum security capabilities that we need,” he said.”
Halvorsen said the service also would have to be hosted entirely within the continental United States, and host only the email traffic on the unclassified network, known as NIPRNet, which he said accounted for the vast majority of costs.
“One of the things you have to do if you’re going to get money is follow money. You have to go where you’re spending your money, and we spend a lot more of our money on the unclassified side of things, so that’s what we’re going to look at first,” he said. “Having that email would do a couple of things. Immediately, it could save us some direct money. It could also increase access. One of the things that would be nice is if everybody in the department didn’t have to have extra devices just to get to their email.”
A second RFI would deal with data storage. Halvorsen said they’re exploring the idea of public-private partnerships on Navy and Marine Corps bases, modeled after the way DoD privatized on-base housing for military families.
“Maybe it’s possible for us to say to some private company, ‘You can build a data center on our base. We will provide all the security, the physical, the virtual, and we’ll be your subcontractor for security. If you get it right, you can even use that data center for non-DON business.’ Is that doable? I don’t know yet. Is it explorable? Yes,” he said.
Halvorsen said he’s already had some one-on-one talks with industry that led him to conclude there are savings to be had in such a partnership if they can work past security, policy and other concerns. He said his guess is the department will wind up with a federated system of data centers, with some operated by the Navy, some by the Marines, some by the private sector and some by other DoD entities such as the Defense Information Systems Agency.
But unlike the Army, which is in the middle of migrating all of its email users to a DISA cloud, Halvorsen said the Navy doesn’t see DISA as a good choice for email, at least for now.
“We encourage the Army and DISA to keep working it, but they’re in the beginning stages of an enterprise email capability that we already enjoy,” he said. “Frankly, where they’re at right now, I’d get less capability for more money. As soon as they get to a point where they can deliver as much capability as we have for less money, we’ll be there.”
Undersecretary Work said the DON is targeting its business systems for efficiency savings because they’re the ones the Navy and Marine Corps can afford to take some level of experimental risks with, unlike systems service members rely on directly in the battle space.
But, Work said, the overall IT spending picture for the Navy and Marine Corps will probably fare relatively well when other systems are included.
“Battle networks are central in the guided munitions regime,” he said. “That is why the United States is so dominant in conventional warfare, and with the proliferation of guided weapons, battle networks will be central in the future. And cyber warfare is a growth area. We’re debating right now whether to make the Navy cyber command its own budget-submitting organization, which should give you an idea of how important we think this is.”
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