Navy, Marine Corps see NGEN as gateway to commercial IT

The Navy and Marine Corps are still in the early planning stages of a potential revamp of their Next Generation Enterprise Network contract. But both services say they hope to use the recompetition of NGEN to give commercial industry more of a hand in the IT services they’re providing to sailors and Marines.

The Navy department released its request for information just a month ago – an early step in developing the acquisition strategy which could finally allow 34 different enterprise services to be competitively bid to different vendors, one of the key selling points all along of retaking government ownership of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet after a decade of full-outsourcing to HP. (That firm still handles day-to-day operation of Navy’s networks under the NGEN contract’s first round, but with much more say-so from the government customers who now own the infrastructure).

Among the Navy’s long-term objectives, according to deputy CIO Janice Haith, is to migrate at least 75 percent of its data from government-controlled data centers to commercially-operated cloud platforms.

“In addition to that, we’re looking at our application hosting,” she said. “Currently, HP provides that for us in one location. We’re already changing that into a commercial cloud access point, and we’re looking at 23 vendors who could possibly host those capabilities for us. They could also offer those capabilities to the rest of the DoD. Right now, we have the lowest price point in DoD for commercial data centers because of our existing NGEN contract. We’re also looking at the contract to change the way we do data transport, both ashore and overseas.”

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Haith told an audience organized by AFCEA’s DC chapter that the Navy also plans to use the NGEN contract to merge its existing cybersecurity infrastructure into DoD’s Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS), a major underpinning of the Joint Information Environment. The Army and Air Force have already taken major steps to create JRSS and to move their installations behind the new DoD-wide firewalls. The sea services have committed to join in — and contribute funding — by fiscal 2018.

The Marine Corps is in a slightly different position. Unlike the Navy, it already owns and operates its entire network and mostly uses the NGEN contract for supplemental labor.

Ken Bible, the Marine Corps’ deputy CIO said the Marines still are firmly committed to their 2009 decision to retake government ownership of what’s now called the Marine Corps Enterprise Network, but he suggested his service may be leaning slightly more toward the Navy’s model in which contractors handle some day-to-day IT legwork with high-level direction from the government.

“We’ve started to realize that there are some things we could do more like the Navy did in terms of using contractor services to support the MCEN. We haven’t fully fleshed that out, and we’re still discussing what those potential leveraging points would be,” he said. “But we are not changing from the government-owned-government-operated construct we have now. Several years ago we embarked upon a network unification plan to bring together all of the disparate pieces that spun off during the NMCI years because NMCI couldn’t support the deploying forces going out into Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re still spending a lot of time bringing those networks back together.”

Among the initiatives the Marines are pursuing as part of its more-unified network: a bring-your-own-device approach to mobility. That service has been the most aggressive pursuer of a BYOD strategy, and has now proved to itself via an initial pilot that it can use DoD’s public key infrastructure to provide security on personally-owned smartphones via derived credentials. A beta testing process that’s now underway will test the security of the software containers the Marines are using to store those security tokens and the process of loading them onto users’ devices.

Haith said the Navy is very interested in following in the Marines footsteps. Her service is planning a BYOD pilot of its own in which users could connect any smartphone they happen to own, a departure from DoD CIO Terry Halvorsen recent public remarks on BYOD, in which he’s suggested that Defense BYOD plans would need to confine users to a handful of pre-approved devices.

Haith said the broad BYOD policy would have some constraints – the devices, for example, would need to be purchased from a major U.S. carrier. Handhelds sailors pick up at random kiosks while on leave in Singapore would not be welcome on Navy networks.

The Navy’s pilot project has not yet launched. The initial target audience would be users within the Pacific Fleet and the Navy Reserve. It’s still pending approval from the DoD CIO and the Navy’s own general counsel.

“Our lawyers don’t particularly like BYOD because they view it as employees delivering free services to the government,” Haith said. “We don’t look at it that way. We look at it as the ability for you to do your job in a more flexible, adaptable environment at any time no matter where you are. Even if we only get permission to do this with non-sensitive information, that’s fine, but we want to test it out to see what we can take advantage of.”

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