DISA plans focus on 3 key IT initiatives

Director Carroll Pollet is putting the agency's energies in infrastructure, command and control and an "always-on" IT envirnonment.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA)  is no stranger to tackling technically difficult initiatives in support of military operations, but now the agency is taking on perhaps more than ever before with an array of enterprisewide strategies.

As the agency moves to marry network-centric computing and information-sharing capabilities with technologies that link across the entire Defense Department, DISA director Army Lt. Gen. Carroll F. Pollett is focusing on delivering unprecedented infrastructure and application support to the military--and calling on commercial suppliers to help.

One of DISA’s most important, and certainly most prominent, collaboration efforts is with the new U.S. Cyber Command. Speaking at a two-day industry forum DISA held this week, Pollett said DISA has been working closely with CYBERCOM, noting that the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding as part of “solid, unified doctrinal support for CYBERCOM cooperation.”

The two agencies have recently engaged in a “mission rehearsal,” Pollett said, and will integrate further when CYBERCOM takes on the responsibilities of the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, which currently operates under DISA. JTF-GNO will be deactivated on Sept. 7, Pollett said.

“We have to share a common operating picture with CYBERCOM and across the domain,” the director said, adding that the two agencies’ operation centers are linked to work in parallel on the enterprise infrastructure.

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Pollett said that DISA is focusing on three core initiatives: Creating an enterprise infrastructure for military services and agencies, not just enterprise services; increasing command and control capabilities for information-sharing collaboration; and establishing an always-on environment that operates with assurance.

However, Pollett’s agenda is running into a hard reality: The agency faces certain upheaval as its headquarters moves from Arlington, Va., to Fort Meade, Md., in the coming months. The move is required under the Base Realignment and Closure mandate.

In an interview during the DISA forum, Pollett said his directorate is taking steps to address the drain on personnel that will occur during the move, when many DISA workers will leave the agency rather than move to Maryland or take on the lengthy commute.

The agency is looking at redefining various jobs that become vacant in the transition. It’s also looking at professional development programs and could “reinvent” some programs to meet the changing requirements in DISA personnel, Pollett added.

“We need to incentivize the workforce,” Pollett said. One such strategy: a high-level intern program that would employ young workers with advanced degrees and put them on a fast track to move up in the agency.

According to the director, DISA is focused on cultivating strategic partnerships, one of which includes a coalition of chief information officers from each service.

“There have been very aggressive efforts for the CIOs to work with their counterparts,” and that’s part of DISA’s pursuit for better agility, Pollett said. “We’ll get each of the [chief information officers] from the services to sit down together and develop common strategies for how we’re going to proceed with enterprise infrastructure,” he added.

Pollett said such a coalition could help better coordinate the multitude of enterprisewide efforts his agency is taking on, including the enterprise e-mail initiative the Army is spearheading with DISA’s help.

“We want to work with the services on enterprise e-mail,” Pollett said, adding that DISA will act as a facilitator rather than taking the lead on the project. “We’re looking at how to proceed thoughtfully. It sounds good, but it’s hard. It’s not going to be something we solve tomorrow, but it is something we recognize as a viable solution and something we see as important to evolving the enterprise.”

DISA is also “reaching out to the university system across the country. The University of Maryland has been fantastic, for example,” Pollett said, adding there is a need for skill sets like software engineering and working with satellite systems. “We’re not going to hire back the old skill sets we lose; we’re going to hire new skill sets” that meet evolving needs, he said.