Shanahan appoints new DoD digital service director

The Defense Department will soon have a new director for its Defense Digital Service.

Brett Goldstein, recruited by Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, will take the reins sometime this week, the agency announced Tuesday morning. Goldstein, a professor at the University of Chicago and most recently a special advisor to the Navy, will replace founding director Chris Lynch, who said he will return back to the private sector.

Brett Goldstein, appointed director, Defense Digital Service

“We are excited for Brett to be taking on the role of director to build and expand the team and its work,” Shanahan said in a press release. “His public and private sector knowledge, technical expertise and commitment to improving government through technology will be invaluable to a range of critical missions across the department.”

DDS is responsible for technology initiatives and provides services that are like a “SWAT Team of tech experts,” the agency said.

DDS accomplishments

Created under the Obama administration in 2015, DDS — a component of the U.S. Digital Service — has tackled a wide range of information technology and cybersecurity issues. Lynch and his “Rebel Alliance” team were responsible for initiatives such as the first federal bug bounty program Hack the Pentagon, as well as the digital transformation of services helping military families relocate, building next-generation GPS, drone detection technology, hunting adversaries via networks and programs leading up to the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud procurement, though currently under scrutiny.

“Under the leadership of Chris Lynch, DDS has hacked the bureaucracy to strengthen our national security and improve the lives of service members and their families,” Shanahan said. “Although we will miss Chris, the unique startup culture he built and the talented team he recruited will continue to disrupt and transform technology at the DoD.”

Under the leadership of three different Defense secretaries, Lynch’s team worked on several other initiatives including:

  • Helping the Department of Veterans Affairs correctly process at least 20,000 documents that had been lost prior to DDS involvement, reduced the time to transfer records from three months to one day, shifted system updates from every 18 months to every two weeks, and helped ensure the veterans could get access to the treatment they deserved.
  • Military, civilian and DDS partners went to Afghanistan to help fill in the gaps within the  North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Advisor Network (ANET). In 2017, DDS released Code.mil, DoD’s first free and open source platform.
  • The Modernizing the Military Enlistment Process (MIRS) initiative helped create a digital platform for electronic record transfer between the processing team and the Army, Navy and Air Force human resources offices. This helped to improve security, functionality and usability of the Pentagon’s recruitment systems.

Next steps, future of technology

Lynch sent a message to his staff before announcing his departure. The letter, obtained by several news sources, warned that the agency would need to keep tabs on the ever-changing world of technology. He said the mission is “forever dependent upon the flawless execution of technology and our adversaries are quite good at software.”

He said keeping a fresh group of technical talent alongside DoD partners will be the key to developing stronger defense networks and more effective, modern IT.

The Pentagon said Goldstein’s job will focus mainly on the recruitment of that talent from the private sector and supporting and empowering personnel and service members. His expertise also includes stints as the chief information officer and chief data officer for the city of Chicago. Goldstein also founded his own venture capital fund dedicated to cultivating technology startups.

“Technology has never been more important to the mission of national defense,” Goldstein said in a twitter post after announcing his new position.

No other details on where Lynch is heading have been announced.

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