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DISA Begins Implementing Fourth Estate Initiative

The effort may save hundreds of millions of dollars.
DISA is beginning to implement plans to build a common network infrastructure for 14 defense agencies known as the “fourth estate.” The effort could save hundreds of millions of dollars over the long term. Credit: ktsdesign/Shutterstock

DISA is beginning to implement plans to build a common network infrastructure for 14 defense agencies known as the “fourth estate.” The effort could save hundreds of millions of dollars over the long term. Credit: ktsdesign/Shutterstock

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has begun the implementation phase for the Fourth Estate Network Optimization Initiative and will now begin building the network for 14 defense agencies. The endeavor will standardize equipment, enhance cybersecurity, improve interoperability and save significant money, DISA officials say.

The initiative, commonly referred to as 4ENO is designed to build a common network, known as DODNet 1st Generation, for an array of Defense Department agencies, including DISA; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Defense Contract Audit Agency; Defense Contract Management Agency; Defense Finance and Accounting Service; Defense Health Agency; Defense Human Resources Agency; Defense Logistics Agency; Defense Media Activity; Defense Microelectronics Activity; Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency; Defense Technical Information Center; Defense Threat Reduction Agency; and the Missile Defense Agency.

The agencies are collectively called the “fourth estate.” The DOD chief information officer and chief management officer directed the 4ENO consolidation in late 2018. The objective is to move the fourth estate’s common use information technology systems, personnel, functions and program elements associated with the support of those systems and technologies into a single service provider architecture, according to a DISA press release.

Despite the varied missions, the agencies have one thing in common that makes standardization and interoperability essential, U.S. Air Force Col. Chris Autrey, chief of DISA’s Defense Enclave Services Office, tells SIGNAL Magazine. “Every field agency here has a unique mission, or else they wouldn’t have been an agency unto themselves. But we know that all of us at some level are combat support agencies that are here to support the same warfighter. DLA may own the logistics mission, and DISA may own the communications mission, and DPAA may be over here doing the prisoner of war and missing accountability mission, but all of us have common customers—the services and the warfighters and the combatant commands.”

DISA officials tout multiple benefits of standardization, including increased cybersecurity. “Reducing the number of networks offers an added benefit of providing more control and consistent cybersecurity standards, which strengthens the fourth estate’s overall cybersecurity posture,” Laura Herbertson, deputy chief of the 4ENO project, says in the agency’s press release. “The consolidated network will also reduce redundant IT costs and provide equal or better service than separate networks.”

Col. Autrey echoes Herbertson’s statement. “This brings everybody up to a common baseline where we’re all protecting the DOD networks at the best level we possibly can,” he says.

The cost savings could be dramatic. “It’s too early to put a number on it, but if we implement it, it’s some big dollars—hundreds of millions in the out years. That’s across the life of the program, a minimum tens of millions. We know that for sure, but we think it looks higher in the end.”

The implementation phase began this month, the first month of the 2020 fiscal year. “We’ve been doing a lot of the initial planning work. Now, we’re moving into our first year of implementation. This is the first year of no-kidding, moving people to the new common network,” Col. Autrey reports. “Throughout this next fiscal year, we’ll start migrating the first couple of agencies onto the DOD network, and we’ll start the preparatory work and the planning for the next agency.”

DISA will be the first to receive the new infrastructure. “We’ll start with DISA headquarters as our main business. We have thousands of people here at headquarters. We have people in Annapolis and the greater national capital area. That’s going to be our big initial churn,” Col. Autrey reports. “From there, we’ll look at the rest of the sites. We’ll probably move to the ecosystem data centers because they’re a large, predominant workforce. We can move the large sites and gain the most efficiencies as early as we possibly can.”

There’s a good reason DISA will be first, the colonel indicates. “We’re building this new network from scratch because it’s also tied to the lifecycle refresh of DISA. The timing just happens to work out well to build it as new at DISA as part of our lifecycle,” he explains. “And then others will migrate right into the same common, shared components.”

It remains to be seen exactly how long the entire process will take. “DISA’s going to take a while because we’re big. We don’t have the full schedule for all of DISA right now. A lot of that equipment will go in throughout this year, and some of that is shared equipment because now with common IT, we actually can use shared capabilities, and we don’t have to put individual networks in every facility,” Col. Autrey adds. “We have an initial schedule for the first sites in DISA, but we actually have to go survey the various DISA sites, and until we can complete the site survey process, we won’t be able to complete the schedule.”  

Agency officials will discuss contracting opportunities associated with 4ENO and other programs at DISA’s November 4 forecast to industry event in Baltimore.