How the Navy is evolving digitally

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The Navy is becoming ever more digital as information warfare, cybersecurity, and command and control become data driven activities. How it operates and how it acquires the goods and services it needs are evolving and fast. For an update, Federal Drive with Tom Temin checked in with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Information Warfare and Enterprise Services, Jane Rathbun.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Ms. Rathbun, good to have you on.

Jane Rathbun: Thanks so much for having me.

Tom Temin: And we should start off by saying that’s only one of your titles, correct?

Jane Rathbun: Yeah, that’s correct. About exactly a year ago, in October 2019, I was also asked to serve as the Department of Navy’s Chief Technology Officer as part of the newly reinvigorated Department of Navy Chief Information Office. And so that came about obviously, because there was a limited number of leadership that could support the new DON CIO office. And secondly, because we realized that the merging and the strong relationship between acquisition and CIO was critical to really make progress in this area.

Tom Temin: Got it, so I was gonna ask you, what are your top priorities in this evolving cloud digital age? And I guess you can address it from both the acquisition and the technology standpoint?

Jane Rathbun: Absolutely. So for me, my biggest priority as the CTO on the CIO side is in modernizing our IT infrastructure, both our enterprise and operational infrastructure – as really, truly a prerequisite for enabling kind of the digital transformations that we want to see in the Navy, where we can get information to and from anywhere, and that we can really exponentially leverage that data that we have, and the data that we create, to really do that deep learning and identify opportunities for improved processes, both operational mission and business. Change culture, be more modern in our delivery of capability, be more agile, and really work to gain that competitive advantage, both from a mission perspective and from a business perspective.

Tom Temin: And just a detail question, I am imagining the Navy is probably keenly interested in the developments in the commercial satellite field, because for ships to be fully integrated into the IT infrastructure, you can’t run a wire to them, and there’s no LTE out there. But satellites offer really, and what’s happening in the satellite industry, offer a lot of new low cost avenues for conductivity.

Jane Rathbun: Absolutely. And we are partnering, we are exploring, we are leveraging those technologies to identify modern ways in thinking about how we keep our ships connected, when we want them connected, and how we keep our ships disconnected when we need them to be disconnected.

Tom Temin: And just give us an update, by the way on the next generation whole contract deal. That’s been some long running opera at this point.

Jane Rathbun: Sure. So that next generation contract as you know, ’cause it’s been in the papers, went to Federal Court of Appeals. And we’re still awaiting the results of that. What it’s given us the opportunity to do is to work on some other aspects of our operating model in and preparation for that new contract that will hopefully allow us to accelerate the modernization of our enterprise IT infrastructure, our transport, our way we do – we deliver services moving to the cloud, and really starting to engage on the zero trust side and deliver capabilities that allow us to adopt zero trust principles such as enterprise identity.

Tom Temin: And do you expect all of that transport and service delivery model to further consolidate the protocols that are used and you can retire some of the the older ones and get a more consolidated type of infrastructure?

Jane Rathbun: Yes, absolutely. As a matter of fact, one of my key priorities or initiatives happening right now is data driven portfolio review of all of the IT infrastructure that the Department of Navy owns Navy and Marine Corps, to really have a sound baseline for making those decisions on where we can consolidate, how we can consolidate. If we are to truly move to an enterprise services approach, which is where you know, industry has gone and many lanes – build once, use often, consume often – that’s going to be a significant cultural change for the Department of Navy, where we tend to try to be – just as ship drivers have to be islands unto themselves, because they are going to be disconnected and they need to be able to support themselves from A to Z, that culture is also apparent in the generation force development lanes. What we’re trying to do is break that culture a little bit and say, hey, we could deliver it enterprise services as a capability to you and speed up your timeline. For example, program manager in delivering software if you don’t have to build your own operating environment. We’re doing all those things.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Jane Rathbun. She’s deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Information Warfare and Enterprise Services, and the chief technology officer for the Department of the Navy’s CIO office. And of course, the purpose of infrastructure and wires and wireless channels, and transport is to deliver software. And what are you looking at in terms of the future ways of modernizing legacy applications and developing new ones?

Jane Rathbun: Glad you asked. The first thing, eminent signature is our new cloud policy that we’ve taken a strategy there and having that dual signed with the CIO and the assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition. And we’re doing that, really to get widespread cloud adoption. We need to do that through our acquisition teams who are actually the ones responsible for developing that software. And so that’s our first foray there is to – we’ve been working on cloud first, for a long time, this policy is honing in now, talking about things like new software developments having to be cloud natively designed, if that makes sense to you.

Tom Temin: Absolutely. Got those two signatures or you’re awaiting them?

Jane Rathbun 5:57
It’s on my acquisition boss’ desk … we’re awaiting the signature on that one … the CIO has signed already.

Tom Temin: No eggnog or Christmas cookies until that signature is done, is that right?

Jane Rathbun: Exactly. And I think that’s one of the first pieces of the puzzle. I have just implemented a task force, DevSecOps task force to start working through what it’s really going to take to evolve our culture, we’ve got lots of good efforts, individual efforts happening in the DevSecOps arena, but what are going to be the things that get our workforce trained, and our culture evolved to be national consumers and users of agile processes?

Tom Temin: And that brings up a good point, because the software development, the DevSecOps model and the agile model, sometimes intersect with the workforce issues, because it implies that there could be a bringing back of direct coding programming activities to uniforms. I think the Air Force has gone that way. What does the Navy see ahead?

Jane Rathbun: I guess on that front, the Navy unlike other services never really got rid of their software talent or their engineering talent. We have a pretty robust bench. So it’s a matter of giving them the tools and getting them the training so that they can be adopters of modern principles, many of them already are. So the next phase and something that I am involved in as the IT acquisition national lead for information technology, or the Department of Navy, is to figure out what kinds of training does the entire program office need to really be good users of agile methodologies? Because as you know, the software developer can be agile all day, but if the schedule and the budget and the rest of the team are not also practicing the operational side as well, we can’t really get there. So it’s got to be a whole of program office, our whole of team approach.

Tom Temin: And how does the acquisition of software from contractors fold into all of that?

Jane Rathbun: Well, I think that goes back to my cloud policy a little bit where we want to see cloud native design software. I think we need to partner with our industry partners, and explain to them and work with them and put in our contracts that we want to use agile methodologies in delivering software. We want them to be cloud-based to the greatest extent possible so that we have the flexibility to move our software where it needs to be at the time it needs to be there, and the data that goes along with that.

Tom Temin: And do you envision a multi-cloud hybrid strategy for the Navy?

Jane Rathbun: That is absolutely our strategy that we will have core general purpose cloud. We will have fit for purpose cloud that we will, you know, again, build once use often, and that fit for purpose, cloud stuff will be like salesforce platforms, Appian platforms as examples. There are other many others, where we really want to build those platforms out and have people you know, use them as much as they need to, but securely manage them once.

Tom Temin: And looking at the information warfare part of your title, in a lot of the warfare domains, the military services are seeking wisdom products, information from non traditional vendors. What’s the Navy’s approach to getting to those types of companies?

Jane Rathbun: So I think those have not changed, I really look to the [research and program evaluation officers] and [responsive process managers]. In addition to delivering their capability is to be innovators of how they’re going to deliver that capability and to be looking for solution sets to the requirements that they’ve been given, by engaging all sorts of industry partners. And so I would say, the best avenue for our new technology companies, well, there’s several avenues, right? We have the NavalX – I don’t know if somebody’s come and talked to you about NavalX but, they’ve established Tech Bridges. And so that’s one avenue that we can get to nontraditional and new technology companies that RPMs and RPEOs can leverage and they do. There is our robust Office of Naval Research and what they’re doing, and how they engage with industry and with academia. And that’s another line of entry into new thinking. I encourage all of my PMs to do a lot of reading and a lot of Google searching to see what’s going on out there, so that they can be educated and aware of opportunities to think out of the box on how to deliver some of these capabilities that we desperately need.

Tom Temin: And with your acquisition hat, can you envision ways of being more agile under the [Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation] and not necessarily everything devolving to an [other transaction agreement]? I shouldn’t say devolving but you know what I mean.

Jane Rathbun: I think absolutely, we will get there. I mean, there there is a guidebook that’s been put out about contracting for agile, that isn’t all OTAs. I think that the DFAR gives us the flexibility we need. So I got back to training the whole of the program office, not just the software developers, on what being agile means. We have to write agile contracts and help our contracting officers understand what that means and work with them to make those realities. So it doesn’t have to just be OTAs.

Tom Temin: And another big train that’s coming everybody’s way, it seems, is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program. As we speak, we’re awaiting the 15 model contracts coming from the Pentagon level. How do you see that affecting your work as this whole program rolls out and develops and kind of gets settled in?

Jane Rathbun: So I think I’m in a wait-and-see mode. It will impact us. What our goal will be is not to have it slow us down from a delivery of capability perspective. We should be developing – and this gets back again, to some agile principles – we should be developing software that is cybersecure up front. And so I will look and see – it’ll be a “wait and see” how that impacts us. But we will definitely be engaged in the conversation.

Tom Temin: Now you’ve had policy roles at the Pentagon level, as well as at the Navy level. And I’m going to put you on the spot here: Which is better, working in the Pentagon as a Fourth Estate person or in one of the armed services?

Jane Rathbun: You know I’ve done three things, right, because I’ve also worked at a combatant command. And so I spent a long time at OSD and went to a combatant command and thought OSD knew what to do and knew how to give direction. I got to the combatant command, I’m like, wait a second here, stop telling us how to do things. That gave me great perspective. And so when I came back into OSD, and then moved to the Navy, I saw that there was a need for the balance. I will tell you, I really enjoy working for the Navy because it’s the opportunity to take policy that’s been written and executed and identify its benefits and its flaws. And then we’re very involved. My team, my [Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy] I-war team is very involved with OSD and helping to shape future policy initiatives, especially along the software acquisition pathway front, and with the IT workforce. As you may know that Secretary [Ellen] Lord and her team have decided to reduce the number of career fields in the acquisition workforce. And we are working with her team to figure out what that means for the it career field from two perspectives. Program management, we’ve talked a lot about that from a DevSecOps perspective, but also from this idea of delivering IT infrastructure as a capability set, not just being a derivative activity of every program, but being a separate program, a set of services that all program managers, PEOs leverage. And so how does that part of the IT acquisition workforce get recognized and understood as a critical role in not just the Department of Navy, but the whole Department of Defense?

Tom Temin: So you don’t want the wire huggers to keep hugging their wires, but to make them understand, use a shared service, and it’s a big headache out of your program office?

Jane Rathbun: Yes, absolutely. That has been my underlying mantra when I was in OSC. And now I’m in the Navy and really helping to execute that, one of the things that we just did last year was split apart the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Services into two: One that’s focused on business services, that’s now Manpower, Logistics and Business; and the other one, which is now called Digital and Enterprise Services – PEO Digital – focused on delivering kind of that modern IT stack. And so they’re right now in the midst of, are evolving their operating model to be that provider of services to all their other PEOs and the program managers.

Tom Temin: So a bunch of mini DISAs forming?

Jane Rathbun: I wouldn’t say many DISAs because we’re going to leverage as much as possible, the DISA services. But there are going to be things, because of our unique nature delivering software to ships, that are going to require maybe specific approaches. And so again, we’re going to follow all of the NIST standards and modern industry best practices in this arena, but really see a need to be able to support our program, our acquisition community, and our sailors and Marines.

Tom Temin: And the Pentagon and those offices, they’re all about – and the Navy chief offices, they’re all about PowerPoints and meetings and all of this. Do you ever turn your back on that temporarily, and step out to the depots into the yards and maybe even aboard a ship? Just to get a sense of what it is and to whom it is you’re delivering all of these services?

Jane Rathbun: Yeah, I think that’s a critical part. You know, and I’m a big proponent of human-centered design, which would require not just me but the PMs and the PEOs that are part of my portfolio to do the same thing, is to really understand how the capability we’re delivering or about to deliver how it really is used and consumed. And I will tell you COVID’s put a damper on those visits, but yes, I am a proponent of getting out there and getting the look and feel and understanding the customer demand.

Tom Temin: Is it a 24/7 job or do you get a little time off on weekends?

Jane Rathbun: You know, I think in today’s day and age, I do reflect upon this. It is a 24/7 job, but I do make time for myself and my family. And I’ve got great teams of folks who, I’m one of those managers “get your work done, I don’t care when, and make sure you’ve got balance.” So I try to show balance so that they will do the same.

Tom Temin: Jane Rathbun is deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Information Warfare and Enterprise Services, also the chief technology officer in the Department of the Navy CIO office. Thanks so much for joining me.

Jane Rathbun: Hey, well thanks for having me. I really enjoyed this.

Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at FederalNewsNetwork.com/FederalDrive. Hear the Federal Drive on demand, subscribe at Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your shows.

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