Agency Fast-Tracks Acquisition

March 2006
By Maryann Lawlor
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Commanders in current operations rely on information technology to provide a common operational picture. Modernizing the acquisition processes at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) will give warfighters the ability to build a user-defined operational picture by reusing capabilities in multiple ways.
Realignment streamlines integration of programs, projects and services.

The final phase of a three-stage plan has been put into place to modernize the Defense Information Systems Agency’s acquisition process for getting new technologies into the hands of warfighters rapidly. Four new program executive offices will improve integration across product lines and support end-to-end engineering of the Global Information Grid. Streamlining the total acquisition process and holding these offices accountable from a budgetary standpoint are among the goals of the transformational effort.

The reorganization is the latest step for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Arlington, Virginia, in an evolutionary journey that began in 2003 with the creation of a component acquisition executive position. During that year, the agency created and organized a regulatory environment. This work was followed in 2004 and 2005 with professionalizing the agency’s processes to improve effectiveness and efficiency. After assessing these initial phases and the tasks the agency was assuming, DISA leadership concluded that instituting a program executive office (PEO) structure would be the best way to reap the benefits of the preceding changes.

Four PEOs have been established: Command and Control, Transport Services, Information Assurance/Network Operations, and Global Information Grid (GIG) Enterprise Services. Each office’s structure is determined by the programs and services under its purview.

Diann McCoy, component acquisition executive, DISA, explains that a number of factors contributed to the decision to create the PEOs. First, the construct aligns the agency with how the military services’ acquisition structure is organized. Each service has an acquisition executive who oversees the individuals in charge of major purchasing programs. In addition, McCoy says, a PEO configuration was necessary as DISA becomes the lead component for the Joint Command and Control program. The program will eventually replace the Global Command and Control System (GCCS) family of systems, she explains.

“Another driver was the [need for the] ability to get our arms around the integration of information assurance and network operations as we look at network-centric warfare. So there were several items that came together that said this is the best type of implementation for the next phase and the realignment against our original goals,” she notes.

The PEO structure also will enable DISA to organize work in portfolios to ensure integration, McCoy offers. As the agency and services move forward with the implementation of the GIG, DISA will be able to make certain it is applying the best consistent technologies throughout products and services that are similar in capability, she states.

For example, the command and control portfolio will include the GCCS, the Global Combat Support System, the Collaborative Force Analysis, the Sustainment and Transportation planning tool, and the Multinational Information Sharing program. These will be transformed from their current state into web services so they can support network-centric warfighting, McCoy explains. “They will need to be built from a consistent service-oriented architecture, therefore, putting them all together so we can ensure that they are being built and being moved in the same direction in terms of their technical solutions,” she relates.

Each program executive office has a lead engineer who examines the entire portfolio and ensures consistency in both technical approach and content. This work is particularly important as DISA builds into a different environment than it has in the past, McCoy says, and it mirrors how the commercial sector is bringing web services to fruition in its business processes.

All of this reasoning behind the decision to institute PEOs aims at one primary and important goal: getting technical capabilities into the hands of warfighters faster. “It allows our customers to have a better view of our strategies in a product line because they will go to a single organization that has that set of related capabilities. We believe it will allow us to increase our speed in providing capabilities to the warfighter because as we start building services, we will be looking at those that already exist, and we can adopt to support capabilities that may be in various different areas in that portfolio,” McCoy explains.

Today’s common operational picture capability is an example of how this approach will help DISA meet future warfighting needs. The goal is the capability to create a user-defined operational picture that warfighters would build by calling on services that provide the background and battlefield elements, such as tanks and ships, applicable to their situation. The information would be available on the network and could be plugged into a map. If a commander needs to view items in transport, this same data could then be reused to design the appropriate user-defined operational picture.

“We see it done on the Internet today. You can do it on the Internet because the underlying technology, the underlying architecture allows you to plug and play items together. What we’re trying to do is structure ourselves so we can take full advantage of the opportunities that are out there to provide capability at a faster rate by applying some of these techniques,” McCoy says.

This tactic is part of the philosophy DISA’s director, Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom Jr., USAF, brought to the agency called the ABC Principles: adopt before buy; buy before create; create as a last resort. Adopting capabilities means that DISA will be looking at existing solutions that fulfill multiple requirements. The agency will try to minimize adapting technologies because this involves changing or adding to them in some way, McCoy emphasizes. “We really want to adopt it, use it and then spiral it quickly as we need to make changes,” she adds.

“The ‘buy’ means we want to go out and see what is commercially available and try to buy capabilities like a commercially managed service and provide it to our Defense Department customers. If you can buy a service, it also allows you to have capabilities sooner and really implement the idea of speed of delivery,” McCoy notes.

Creating a solution—or building it from scratch—is the last resort because it involves hiring a company or team of companies, a time-consuming process that delays delivery to DISA customers, she states.

Pfc. Jarred Smith, USA, tactical satellite operator, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, works on a satellite receiver transmitting through the Joint Network Node. The system is one of the latest acquired by the U.S. Army to facilitate mobile combat communications.
The new structure is not just a paper-pushing exercise, McCoy maintains, and both the military services and commercial sectors are likely to notice some changes that support better integration. The PEOs bring program and project managers of similar capabilities together, which facilitates the dialogue between customers and senior-level DISA personnel. All of the stakeholders will understand how capabilities will fit together when implemented so stovepipe systems are reduced or eliminated, the footprint is minimized and life-cycle management costs are reduced.

“We hope that as we present ourselves to our customer, they will see a lot of consistency. As the project leaders—who are below the top level—present capabilities to our customers, we hope that they will see more consistency in our approaches. They will see that DISA is conscious of making sure that we’re building the end-to-end GIG and solutions are fitting into a total picture that they can begin to visualize with us,” McCoy notes. The PEOs will enable DISA to escalate its work in the adoption of best-of-breed services both within the agency as well as with the military commands and armed services, she adds.

Industry also will see some differences in its working relationship with the agency, though not all are being brought about by the realignment. For example, DISA already emphasizes the consolidation of task orders to minimize the amount of overhead and to focus solutions in particular areas. The agency’s new structure supports this effort.

One area where companies are likely to notice the biggest change will be in how the agency conducts acquisition processes, increasing the emphasis on statements of objectives vice statements of work. This may be challenging for firms because they will be asked to describe how they provide, for instance, software assurance.

“I always give my example of cutting grass. You can hire somebody to maintain your lawn by telling them how often to fertilize it and to cut it; or you can ask them to come and keep your grass a certain color and a certain height. In the second case, you don’t care how often they fertilize, cut or water it; you’re looking at an end result. That’s what a performance-based statement of objectives is supposed to describe—the expected outcomes rather than the exact specifics of the actions. Companies have to come back and say, ‘To do this for you, here are the actions that I will take,’ and then I can evaluate you against your proposal,” she says. This methodology is consistent with Office of the Secretary of Defense goals to move to performance-based acquisitions, McCoy notes.

As with most evolutionary moves, DISA’s restructuring poses some challenges. Top among them is the adjustment to a new culture. Because this phase of the agency’s journey toward acquisition excellence parallels the services’ purchasing processes, the cultural changes are similar, so they are easier to understand, McCoy says. Still, continuous training in certain disciplines will be needed, she adds.

Another challenge will be determining how to tailor the acquisition process to achieve the acceleration in purchasing and in fielding solutions. DISA is working to ensure that it follows Defense Department acquisition and review rules while focusing on increasing procurement speed.

One of the ways the agency is tackling both of these challenges is by conducting forums in which experts discuss the elements of achieving acquisition excellence with DISA personnel. To reach external stakeholders, the agency participates in conferences and other venues to explain what and why changes are underway.

Under Gen. Croom’s direction, DISA also has organized events to discuss issues with specific groups. “We will have a day with DLA [Defense Logistics Agency], a DISA-DLA Day, and it goes on and on with other groups so that we are constantly sharing our ideas with our partners and getting their buy-in or their concerns and can respond to what may not be perfect and improve,” McCoy notes. This give-and-take process is continuous as is the dialogue with senior military and Defense Department officials to ensure DISA is headed in the right direction in its strategy forward, she adds.


Web Resources
Defense Information Systems Agency Component Acquisition Executive:
Military Acquisition:
Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics:
Defense Contract Management Agency:


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