Moving Past Roadblocks to Collaboration

July 2009
By Helen Thompson Mosher



Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., USAF, commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command, opens the SOLUTIONS conference on information sharing among agencies and coalition partners with a call to move from discussion to action.

Information-sharing obstacles are numerous, and any progress of note is still too slow.


Networks no longer are a tidy complement to the work of defense agencies. As information gathering and processing have become faster and more essential to defense and security operations, those networks have evolved into essential tools. But the very barriers created in the justifiable zeal to protect these networks also are erecting significant roadblocks to information sharing, and the fallout affects the agencies’ ability to collaborate with allies, coalition partners and each other.

This need for collaboration was the focus of the first conference in the 2009 AFCEA SOLUTIONS Series: Inter-Agency, Allied and Coalition Information Sharing, held May 19-20 in Lansdowne, Virginia. Among the conference themes was that technology is not the primary hindrance anymore. Policy and organizational culture, on the other hand, are not keeping up with technology. This presents a conundrum to industry partners who can find solutions to technological barriers faster than governments can address the cultural and policy issues.

Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., USAF, commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command, opened the conference by observing that discussions on information sharing were important, but not going to be enough. “Discussions don’t move to real solutions very rapidly. Discussion is wonderful, but action is what we need,” the general said.

Despite vast improvements in collaboration and coordination efforts among disparate groups since September 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Gen. Renuart believed the government has a long way to go. “Information sharing enables everything we do,” he noted. “It sounds a little trite, but everything of substance that occurs in our world revolves around our ability to move data around to allow a leader to make a decision about an operation.”

Panelists expanded on the problem of barriers to collaboration. Col. Ken McNeill, ARNG, deputy director, Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems (J-6), National Guard Bureau, pointed out that procedural flaws can impede collaborative efforts and that simply observing and improving processes can generate positive outcomes. To that end, he pointed out the success of ongoing exercises at the national level as the key to improving inter-agency homeland security processes.

Simulation and scenario planning also facilitate the process of collecting requirements, said Edmon Begoli of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. As he explained, it is not enough to plan for a natural disaster or a terrorist attack—the possibility exists for two simultaneous natural disasters or terrorist attacks to occur. This type of scenario planning is an art, Begoli said. “Trying to work with agencies to extract specifications requires an enthusiasm for not sitting and waiting for requirements.”

Audience members pointed out that better identity assurance also would go a long way toward improving the environment for multilevel cooperative efforts. One Web participant asked, “How are we going to get collaboration when we can’t agree on authentication?” Steven Pitcher, chief of the Joint Staff’s information sharing branch, explained that services have succeeded where they have focused on joint or interoperability aspects, but they have not done an effective job of including coalition forces. Complicating things further is a lack of uniform certifications across the Defense Department.

Bobbie Stempfley, chief information officer of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), explained that streamlining standards would help enterprise solutions work for multiple agencies. That, she added, cannot happen unless the agencies can “agree what the problem is with enough specificity that it will work” for all of them. In fact, the panel she was on had convened to discuss best practices in information sharing, but its participants could not describe those practices in action. The panel instead made recommendations for what needs to happen to facilitate best practices.



Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, USN, director, Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems (J-6), the Joint Staff, explains her frustrations with an acquisitions system that sets "unattainable, unaffordable" requirements during the town hall meeting.


Changing the Culture
The major cultural shift that needs to happen, according to several conference presenters, is that agencies must move from an emphasis on risk avoidance to a focus on risk management. Without that shift, the quest to achieve 100 percent risk avoidance is quixotic at best; more realistically, it hampers agencies’ ability to share information, stated Chris Gunderson of the Naval Postgraduate School at one afternoon plenary session. Maj. Robert Castillo, USA, branch chief, U.S. Southern Command, also addressed this shift to risk management during another panel session. “We have this mentality that we can control or eliminate risk with technology, but we can’t,” Maj. Castillo said. “We need to change culture and policy, and start with the individual operator first.”

Exacerbating this difficulty is the lethargic attitude toward change among agencies. “We are hearing the cry for better answers technologically and procedurally, but it’s a painful and long process,” said DISA’s Stempfley.

“Operators come to us with a good idea. Vendors come to us with good solutions. But we always run into the policy barrier that slows us down,” added Elwood “Bud” Jones, program manager, Multinational Information Sharing, U.S. Central Command. “It’s always a six- to 12- to 24-month process. If [the agency] was truly embracing information sharing, that policy would have been changed.”

Jones also explained that one simple mindset stood in the way of much potential progress, framing a lawyer’s usual response to the question of permission a little differently. “They’ll tell me that we can’t do something. Their job is not to tell me what I can’t do—it’s to tell me how I can do it,” he said.

As audience members posed questions about unintended consequences that might result from a change in risk tolerance, participants at a later panel disagreed and underscored the importance of accepting this change. “We’re so fixed on control, we’re going to have to accept some risk,” said Dr. Robert Beardsworth, branch chief, Data, Standards and Service-Oriented Architecture, U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM). “Individuals are going to make mistakes, and that should be tolerated as long as they are learned from.”

Dr. Mark Drapeau, associate research fellow, National Defense University, turned the question around on the audience, asking, “How do we make policies that allow us to do our jobs in unpredictable environments?”

Improving Command and Control


Dr. David S. Alberts, director of research for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, networks and information integration, addresses the increasing complexity of command and control in today’s mission environment.

Dr. David S. Alberts, director of research for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Networks and Information Integration, discussed the maturity and agility of command and control (C2). Alberts explained that missions are increasingly complex, with the following implications on C2: there will be no unified chain of command; each entity involved will have its own interest and intent; the situation will be, in part, unfamiliar to each entity; there will be multiple planning processes; critical information and expertise necessary to understand the situation will be non-organic; and to be effective, actions will require developing synergies between and among entities.


Addressing this complexity requires a spectrum of C2 maturity, Alberts continued, which begins with conflicted, progresses to deconflicted, then moves to cooperative, then to collaborative, and lastly, at the “top,” what he calls “edge C2.” He also noted that it is not so much that each level is better than the other so much as it is qualitatively different and more difficult to achieve. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Alberts said. “There is a level of maturity that is appropriate to every situation.”

Moving on to agility, Alberts noted that agility is more than just flexibility—it also includes adaptability, responsiveness, robustness, resilience and innovativeness. “C2 agility is the ability to maintain effective command and control as a function of changing circumstances and stresses,” he said.

This agility and understanding of how to best apply it and the C2 spectrum will help mission leaders better understand how to prevail in complex mission environments and shift from entity C2 to collective C2, Alberts said. Ultimately, this will help forces improve their net-centricity.

Moving Security Forward
The Obama administration can take certain key steps to improve the ability to recognize and deal with national security threats, according to recommendations in “Nation at Risk,” a report issued by the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age. Jeffrey Smith of Arnold & Porter LLP, a steering committee member for the report, presented the publication’s findings at the conference.

“We are still vulnerable because we cannot connect the dots,” Smith said. “The need-to-know principle is important, but it inhibits information sharing at a time when it’s needed. Information-sharing practices are still a hodgepodge. We need stronger leadership and stronger direction.”

The task force had four recommendations to that end for the president and Congress: recommit to information sharing, ensure information’s accessibility and discoverability, develop governmentwide privacy policies and find ways to overcome bureaucratic change.

Smith observed that the recommendations were straightforward enough but required a commitment from leadership to implement. Of significant concern, he continued, was that “the sense of urgency on information sharing has diminished in the last seven years.”

JFCOM’s Beardsworth pointed out that defense and intelligence agencies have always operated in a need-to-know environment. He believed that agencies are moving into a need-to-share environment, which creates many of the challenges these agencies are facing today.

The same is true for the homeland security “battlefield,” said Chet Lunner, deputy under secretary for field operations, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Department of Homeland Security, whose “warfighters” include police, firefighters, public health workers and other first responders. Their mission does not fit in with Soviet-era assumptions of what intelligence is, Lunner explained.

Overclassification of information is a real problem when these workers cannot access data that would improve their situational awareness in crises such as the California wildfires, the Minnesota bridge collapse, Hurricane Dean, the Midwest flooding and the Mississippi River oil spill. All of these disasters were emergency situations in the past two years requiring substantial cooperation among federal, state and local agencies. “We’re treating intelligence and information as the same thing; we’re treating state and locals as the same thing,” Lunner said. “They are four separate entities.”

New Ways of Doing Business


During a town hall meeting, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense Department panelists discuss fundamental changes that need to take place in today’s mission environment. From left: Steve Cooper, partner, Strativest LLC; Rear Adm. Janice M. Hamby, USN, director, Command Control Systems, NORAD and U.S. Northern Command; Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, USN, director, Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems (J-6), the Joint Staff; and Chet Lunner, deputy undersecretary for field operations, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, DHS.

In the closing town hall meeting, Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, USN, director, Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems (J-6), the Joint Staff, and Rear Adm. Janice M. Hamby, USN, director, Command Control Systems, NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, addressed issues of fundamental change in how the Defense Department does business. “Why haven’t we bought our soldiers iPhones rather than writing restrictive requirements?” Adm. Brown asked, noting a typical request for handheld radios that can receive 10 waveforms with a battery that lasts “x” hours and can be run over by a tank. “We’re defining something unattainable, unaffordable and really not that necessary. [These] requirements don’t meet the mission of today.”


Adm. Hamby noted that a significant part of the problem was that the people writing the requirements are not involved in carrying out the mission. “We let our acquisition process happen at the Pentagon,” she said. “But to get an understanding of the real requirements of getting the job done, the people doing the operating have to be there [in the acquisition process].”

These factors have a direct bearing on the information-sharing process, the admirals added. Adm. Brown explained, “We have a responsibility not to invest in proprietary things that are going to restrict our ability to operate in an open environment with anyone we happen to meet on the battlefield who might become our partner.”

This sets the stage for the next SOLUTIONS Series conference on Information Technology (IT) Acquisitions in September. But even as the conversation continued and the conference wound down, Adm. Hamby reiterated a point that Gen. Renuart, NORAD commander, had made the previous morning. “We need to stop wringing our hands over what we’re going to do about it and start doing something about it,” she said.


Nation at Risk:


Enjoyed this article? SUBSCRIBE NOW to keep the content flowing.