Leaders of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) cut the ribbon Friday on their new 95-acre, $500 million headquarters complex, a facility that will eventually consolidate the workplaces of thousands of Defense employees from a half dozen locations into just one.
Both of Maryland’s U.S senators and Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown joined Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett, DISA’s director, in a ceremony before several hundred dignitaries and invited guests at the new campus at Fort Meade, halfway between Washington and Baltimore.
The ceremonial opening comes at the midpoint of a move that is taking DISA several months to complete as it transfers 4,600 employees from several worksites around the national capital region to the new 1.1 million square foot, seven-building complex.
“It meant significant dislocation of people to move here. I want to acknowledge that,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). “This wasn’t just packing up a storefront at a strip mall and moving to another one. You had to be able to do it at the same time we’re at war. And the cyber war, both the attack on the United States and the military infrastructure that supports it, is an ongoing war. I think we need to salute our military leadership, our civilian leadership and our contractors here.”
The new site puts DISA on the same military installation as the Pentagon’s newly-created U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency. Pollett told reporters the three entities had been working to standardize their software and systems to work together more efficiently, and the co-location would further that goal.
“We tried to optimize the latest technologies and best practices in the industry right now so we could be more efficient in terms of how we utilize technology,” he said. “In the past, we used technology in a very stovepiped fashion. We’ve tried to be sure that what we established here was state-of-the-art. We’re utilizing thin client technology and we’re trying not to rebuild data centers and infrastructures inside of this facility. We’re leveraging external facilities in terms of how we get our services and I think that’s where you’ll see this investment taking us.”
The IT investment in the new facility is significant. DISA estimates that roughly 20 percent of the cost of the new campus was for IT infrastructure alone – even after accounting for the cost of DISA’s separate water supply, multiple redundant electricity supplies, and its own dining facility, training center, fitness center, conference center, and advanced monitoring and building control systems.
The Defense Department relocated DISA to Fort Meade in the round of decisions made by the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission in 2005. Along with a large expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground and the merger of Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center into Bethesda Naval Medical Center, the DISA move meant Maryland gained more Defense personnel from the current BRAC round than any other state.
By law, all BRAC moves resulting from the 2005 decision must be made by Sept. 30. Pollett said DISA would beat that deadline by a month as it continues a transfer process that the agency began in January.
“Today we have 1,700 professionals that have closed in on this location here at Fort Meade,” Pollett said. “By the end of the month we’ll bring 600 more in. We’ve already closed down two buildings in the national capital region and turned them back over. We’re moving approximately 200 people every other week, working through the weekend to get them moved to this location and be operational while they do it. We’re moving 58,000 square foot labs, running split operations to ensure that we’re still responsive to the warfighter in terms of keeping capability available to them for decision making.”
Even as it conducts the physical relocation, Pollett said DISA also was doing some internal restructuring to the agency’s workforce.
“We redefined and reprioritized over 1,000 duty positions for civilians in this organization to better define what our requirements were for the future and the skill sets that are required to meet that challenge as we move more and more into a cyber environment,” Pollett said. “We increased our intern program to over 400 interns. I consider that an investment in the future.”
DISA officials said they expected they would end up losing some staff who were unwilling to make the lengthy commute to Fort Meade from northern Virginia, but Pollett said the agency estimated that more than 40 percent of its workforce already was living in Maryland, some having relocated already and some being new hires.
David Bullock, DISA’s BRAC executive, said the agency had seen a huge shift in where its employees were living.
“We started off, when the BRAC was announced, with about 70 percent of the workforce in Virginia and roughly 20 percent in Maryland,” he said in an interview. “We thought it would take about five years to reverse the percentages. It’s probably going to end up being two or three years. But we are at authorization now and we have not seen a huge decrease in the number of people. We are continuing to be very aggressive in our hiring approach to make sure we have the pipeline filled with highly qualified candidates. Every vacancy that occurs, we’ve got people available to fill it.”
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