Air Force empowers its CIO, centralizes IT planning

Wednesday - 9/18/2013, 6:18am EDT

Jared Serbu reports.

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The Air Force is taking early steps to boost the oversight role of its chief information officer, giving the position a bigger say in decisions about IT acquisition, planning and funding, a move the service says will cut down on duplicative spending and pave the way for more commoditization.

Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, the Air Force CIO and chief of information dominance on the Air Staff, said he successfully made the case for more IT centralization to Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, and got the buy-in of the rest of the service's four-star generals this summer.

His office is just beginning to build an implementation plan that will define precisely where the CIO will insert himself into IT acquisition processes across the Air Force and help align the service's various technology investment portfolios.

The basic idea is to reaffirm the intent of the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, Basla told reporters at the Air Force Association's annual air and space exposition at National Harbor, Md.

"We are developing processes in requirements review, acquisition and budgeting, and we're asking where it makes sense for the CIO's office to inject itself," he said. "I believe it begins when our [deputy chief of staff for plans and programs] sends out guidance every year. I think there should be a section in there from the CIO that says, 'Here's the planning and programming guidance with regard to our investments in IT capabilities.' And I think it has to be based on strategic guidance about the type of environment we want to create."

Huge part of IT spend

With the more empowered CIO role, Basla said his office also is developing that strategic guidance. He said it will lead to a more homogenized, more predictable IT landscape for the entire Air Force.

"In the past, program managers would develop the environment for them to host their own capabilities. That's not necessarily the best way from an economic or a security perspective, because everybody then is challenged to develop and pay for their own environment," he said. "A better approach is one that says, 'What should the environment look like? Can we deliver a commoditized infrastructure that program managers can target their programs to and deploy their capabilities on?' That's where we're headed."

Basla said various Air Force components currently spend 40 to 70 percent of the service's overall IT budget authority on technology infrastructure, a tab he estimates at about $1 billion. He's proposed that the Air Force align all of its IT infrastructure spending under a single program manager.

He argued the service can deliver on those dollars more economically and stop wasting money on excess capacity if the Air Force provides that infrastructure as a service to its program managers, using mostly off-the-shelf technology.

"Investments in this area can come from multiple portfolios because of the different needs in different mission areas," he said. "We need to look at the inputs from those collective plans and programs and say, 'You know what, this capability is already delivered by someone else, so you don't need to purchase that.' That awareness is all it takes sometimes: somebody looking across the investment proposals and making sure they're aligned, that we're not duplicating capabilities, and that they're targeted toward a strategic objective. The industry model right now is a very centralized approach that would have even more authorities vested in the CIO, but I'm very comfortable with where we're going right now."

Basla said the implementation plan will emphasize fiscal discipline and adherence to standards in IT projects, and that his office plans to order that those projects have a centrally-defined set of data standards within two years.

"That will facilitate common hosting and sustainment, with only a few exceptions for legacy systems, based on business case analyses," he told attendees at AFCEA Northern Virginia's annual joint warfighter IT day last week. "For non-weapons systems — functional systems in the areas of logistics, personnel and finance — we'll achieve a common hosting standard in the next 18 months or compete those systems against industry solutions. Again, toward this commoditized infrastructure."

Preparing for the JIE

Air Force leaders say they've already made major strides toward reducing some of the service's IT stovepipes. For the past few years, they've been collapsing individual networks run by bases and major commands into an enterprise structure called AFNET.

Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, is in charge of AFNET's boots-on-the-ground implementation. He said it's Air Force's stepping stone to the DoD Joint Information Environment, a construct that leaders say eventually will unite the entire military around a single set of shared infrastructure and IT services.

"We're getting ourselves into a single network, a single forest, where you can go to any base, plug in your common access card, and it's just like you're at your home station," he said. "We've made great strides in AFNET migration, and it's absolutely the precursor to JIE for us."

Shelton said AFNET will be fully implemented at every Air Force base by the end of fiscal 2014.

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