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Together They Can Do More

May 2008
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

Military development organization wants more private sector involvement and is blazing a trail toward more sharing and open dialogue.

The Defense Information Systems Agency has transformed its acquisition policy over the past several years, and the success of the new method has resulted in cost savings and faster deployments of capabilities. As new programs—both large and small—advance, the agency plans to be as open as possible with industry in an effort to create synergy that will generate the best solutions.

Tony Montemarano took over as component acquisition executive at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) at the beginning of January, and he intends to continue the agency’s prior outreach to the private sector. “The most important thing is we’re all in this together,” he explains. The two groups must work closely to develop and maintain necessary technologies. Montemarano says that DISA needs industry engagement to field systems and that the agency needs to respect what happens in the private sector to sustain the partnership. In his experience, the military delivers better products when both sides collaborate.

DISA changed its acquisition strategy and further engaged industry in the development process when Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom Jr., USAF, took command of the agency in 2005, and implemented his ABC policy—adopt, buy, create. The initiative is designed to save money and field capabilities faster by taking advantage of past investments first, then purchasing new technology if required and developing tools as a last option. Montemarano says the system is working “very, very well” for the agency, which has had success in adopting and adapting capabilities already available. A content discovery service in use by the intelligence community is one of the technologies the agency is adopting.

DISA also is employing the ABC policy on one of its largest programs—the Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES). DISA is building an infrastructure in NCES that enables network-centric operations to increase data and services delivery and discovery. The agency has identified existing capabilities already in use by the military and adapted them for its own needs. “For example, we have adopted the Army’s portal, Army Knowledge Online,” Montemarano says. “It’s now Defense Knowledge Online.” 

The NCES is one of two primary acquisition initiatives DISA currently has underway. The organization has approximately 250 total programs in the works. The other major project is Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC), which serves as the principal command and control (C2) capability for the U.S. Defense Department. The NECC will be accessible in a network-centric environment and focused on providing commanders with information necessary to make decisions. It also will help warfighters through a decision support infrastructure that enables forces to access, display and understand information. The NECC will deliver continuous C2 enhancements to troops and will be founded on a single, network-centric, services-based C2 architecture.

DISA’s projects’ focus on acquisition of services rather than on products is becoming the norm, Montemarano says. Instead of making big contract buys, the agency is purchasing software and services for provision to those who need them. DISA now is preparing to acquire services to replace current communications capabilities at various places in the Defense Department. Support for the Defense Information System Network (DISN), including network management and engineering, must be replaced soon. The services the military employs will have to be provided through other means with some type of acquisitions services contract.

Another such agreement that will roll out soon will address circuit contracts for the Pacific region to cover the DISN in that area. “They have an existing contract expiring in the near term,” Montemarano says. “That will have to be replaced.”

He emphasizes that the scope of current contracts do not necessarily constitute the scope of replacement contracts. Services will be continued in some form and fashion but not necessarily in a way identical to past proceedings.

Though most of DISA’s purchases will be rolled out to other military organizations and agencies for their needs, some acquisitions are for internal use. The agency has plans to replace network services where it has its own local area network in the near future.

In terms of future trends, Montemarano sees one main adjustment on the horizon. “The only thing that’s really evolving is that we’re moving from time and material-like contracts to performance-based contracts,” he explains. He describes the move as the most important trend for industry to understand. Under the acquisition of services guidelines, agency personnel have to focus more on performance, and they are examining how to make all contracts performance based when possible. Montemarano says that trend is guided by policy.

He also says that acquisitions officials need to be flexible while complying with requirements and the objectives of overall policies. The agency has several types of acquisitions contracts and areas of expertise to manage, and no specific approach works better than another in every circumstance. While the basic technique may be the same for many contracts, the degree of oversight depends on the size of the program. And services contracts may require different oversight and acquisition than other contracts.

One example of a smaller acquisition movement underway at DISA involves looking more to industry to manage and run military environments. “We have varying degrees of movement in that direction,”  Montemarano says.

For industry to serve DISA’s needs better, private organizations must understand that the Defense Department is serious about network centricity and that the term means more than just having a Web site. According to Montemarano, network centricity encompasses data standards, including publishing and subscribing that data. He says industry must recognize this and align its goals toward network centricity.

The thrust of the network-centric approach has to do with making data, machines and applications agnostic so anyone with the appropriate permissions can see, use and manipulate what they need. Network centricity fits in with DISA’s ABC policy as well, according to Montemarano, because it has to do with sharing services already available. If someone has created a service, no one else has to remake the effort. He states that he has yet to see the vendor community come forward and embrace this sort of business practice. Instead, private companies want to show DISA what they already own. “If they start pushing toward [network centricity], they’re going to see more activity from us,” Montemarano states. “We’re looking for solutions, and we don’t have all the answers.”

DISA also has become focused on network operations as the Defense Department is aggressively pursuing the need for situational awareness. The military is determined to protect its systems from cyberattacks and the proliferation of hackers and intrusions. “We must be aware of the status of those systems,” Montemarano explains. One of the problems the military faces is the lack of a single solution set to employ. The department now has a greater impetus to obtain a truer understanding of the status of an outage or the remediation, hence the focus on network operations has risen dramatically. “Industry needs to understand and recognize that we are going to need help going forward,” he says.

To help industry help them, DISA officials are making themselves more open and available to the private sector. Gen. Croom sponsors industry days during which agency executives have a free-flow discussion with members of the vendor community. The agency is trying to be more transparent in terms of its efforts and what industry needs to understand as it moves forward. The idea behind the open initiative is that the better the private sector understands DISA’s direction, the better members will be able to compete, resulting in the provision of better solutions. Montemarano explains that DISA is trying to be more interactive with industry to the extent that such sharing is legally appropriate. He says that the move toward frank dialogue instead of closed doors is one of the biggest changes in DISA acquisitions.  

One factor that Montemarano does not expect to have a deep affect on the agency’s programs, at least in terms of information technology, is a budget cut. “This is a normal flow of events,” he says. “Budgets rise; budgets fall.” The key for DISA is to focus on not allowing the core functionality to be affected and to direct funding shortfalls toward the less important programs. The agency also will focus on solutions that are more agile and cost effective.

Web Resources
Defense Information Systems Agency Acquisitions: www.disa.mil/main/prodsol/cs_acquisitions.html
Net-Enabled Command Capability: www.disa.mil/necc/index.html
Net-Centric Enterprise Services: www.disa.mil/nces/