How the Pentagon can help federal buying power

The Defense Department’s plan to stand up IT for a background check bureau could be a model for civilian-DOD cooperation.

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A plan that establishes the Pentagon as the IT provider for a civilian agency could be a model for future efforts, according to a top official.

The Department of Defense is slated to provide key IT infrastructure and services for the Office of Personnel Management's National Background Investigations Bureau -- the agency created in the wake of massive data breaches and other troubles involving background checks.  

Speaking at FCW's Aug. 10 Cloud Summit, DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen said such partnerships within the federal space should be the norm, not the exception.

"What that really is, is DOD providing an enterprise service for a federal part of government. That's pretty new," Halvorsen said. "That shouldn't be pretty new. Why aren't we doing that as often?"

"I think on both sides of this equation, you're going to see different approaches to the partnership," he added.

Halvorsen's remarks came the day after his top deputy was selected as the new OPM CIO, with a key role in standing up NBIB.

The Obama administration announced the creation of NBIB in January 2016 as part of efforts to address shortcomings in federal background checks and record security that surfaced in the wake of the OPM data breach that compromised the personal information of more than 22 million people.

Halvorsen said that such partnerships could help agencies that lack DOD's buying power.

"If you look at DOD we're probably not as agile or flexible as some of the agencies. [But] one thing DOD does have is buying power and the ability to influence the market," said Halvorsen. "You put our budget into the mix, it will generally change price points."

Halvorsen is also looking internationally when it comes to advancing technology partnerships. On a recent Silicon Valley trip, the DOD CIO was accompanied by representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan, and NATO.

"That's a pretty big chunk of the world's economy," Halvorsen said. "All moving, all allied with us. [And] we all have the same problems."

Robert Vietmeyer, DOD's associate director for cloud computing and agile development, noted that international laws on data privacy can create challenges for such collaborations, however.

"Most of our work is happening more in our classified or in our defense networks," Vietmeyer, who also spoke at the Cloud Summit, said.  "We're trying to build out common platforms and common services for our allies and get those in place."

DOD is also exploring ways to work with our allies in the international community to build a common cloud environment as part of the Mission Partner Environment. The Defense Systems Intelligence Agency uses MPE to provide defense officials with a single structure to share information with allies, including those involved in the fight against ISIS. The cloud would be a part of that structure, Halvorsen said, but not the foundation.

"We are going forward and working closely with our allies to architect a common cloud environment," Halvorsen said.  "It's not the baseline, certainly, [but] a big supporting structured opportunity…for the mission-partnered environment."