DISA to Industry: We Can't Go It Alone
The agency showcases several of its acquisition and procurement plans at industry forecast event.
The federal budget crunch has amplified bureaucratic appeals to private businesses to develop solutions that will streamline and modernize government agencies, especially the massive U.S. Defense Department.
This was the message delivered Thursday at the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA’s) highly anticipated annual forecast to industry event.
The agency showcased several acquisition and procurement plans that will shape the future of the Defense Department, which aims to embrace technological developments such as commercial cloud services, mobility and the Internet of Things, officials shared.
Big data platforms, for example, will play a critical role in the Defense Department’s overarching third offset strategy, which stresses innovation to maintain the country’s technological advantage over its adversaries. “In the future, it’s truly about fewer humans in cyberspace,” said John Hickey, DISA’s risk management executive and chief information officer. The department needs “the ability to have an automated network that allows you real-time visibility, that you can maneuver in a secure manner,” he said. “That’s the key, and DISA’s piece of this is: How do we provide the network … and how do we defend the network to allow that information to flow?”
Several major themes for the coming year that will drive progress across DISA range from simplification of networks and the acquisition process to collaboration with industry, optimization of systems, standardization, active network defense and the agility to integrate new technologies, DISA leaders said during a roundtable discussion.
“Everything we do from a DISA perspective is about providing services to our warfighter and getting to a more agile way to do that,” said John Hale, DISA’s chief of enterprise applications. In a few years, the next generation will join the defense work force—troops who have never known a world in which they could not instantly connect to the Internet and each other, Hale illustrated. “They’re going to be expecting that here, and we need to be agile enough to provide the services necessary to meet [those] demands.”
Following the daylong event, industry had its marching orders.
Tapping proven commercial solutions will be critical, agency directors said. Private businesses big and small will drive many government changes, such as the shift to the cloud and analytics, that the Defense Department will have no choice but to accept.
DISA already has embarked on a number of mission changes to adapt to the morphing technology environment and increasingly sophisticated and agile adversarial threats, said Maj. Gen. Sarah Zabel, USAF, the agency’s vice director. The overhaul has introduced several new major projects, which could mean contract opportunities for industry. To that end, Gen. Zabel outlined key areas for the audience:
• DISA will create and manage the Defense Department’s new Cyber Range that will clone the Department of Defense Information Network (DODIN) lab.
• The agency has the lead on running the Joint Service Provider effort, which will eliminate redundancies in how the Defense Department delivers its information technology services.
• DISA will run the mammoth National Background Investigation System (NBIS), taking over from the Office of Personnel Management following its data breach.
• DISA will continue work on critical classified mobility plans and play an increased role in managing White House communications.
• Finally, while still maturing the organization, DISA will lead the Joint Force Headquarters–DODIN effort, which provides a critical link between U.S. Cyber Command and each of the services.
Industry complaints of an agonizingly slow acquisition process have not fallen on deaf government ears, Gen. Zabel said. DISA is releasing requirements in draft form much earlier in the process to give businesses a heads up and to get industry feedback. “We want to encourage communication,” she said. Also, the agency will publish more source code to solicit industry input and increase the number of “bug bounty” efforts that invite white hat hackers to ferret out system weaknesses, the general said.
Recognizing that classic information technology solutions no longer work, the agency wants to increase the percentage of small businesses that earn government contracts, offered Sharon Jones, DISA’s director of the Office of Small Business Programs. Small businesses often are more agile and can “move at the speed of ambition,” she said. The agency seeks solutions that efficiently integrate mature solutions while influencing research and technology initiatives “that address our most critical gaps and capability shortfalls.”
DISA’s fiscal year 2017 goal is to award 27 percent of its acquisition dollars to small businesses. In fiscal year 2015, the latest year for which complete data is available, the agency spent $1.5 billion on prime small business contracts, a slight decrease from the previous year but higher than the preceding 13 budget years.
Agency directors presented attendees a number of slides, available online, that outline many key agency acquisition projects, their requirements and various timelines for awarding contracts.
DISA’s new operational role in the cyber domain as network defender creates a formal relationship between the agency, U.S. Cyber Command and the command’s military service components. Linked by a commitment to cybersecurity, military and industry will gather at the 2017 Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium on June 13-15 at the Baltimore Convention Center.