DoD benefitting from BRAC-inspired IT upgrades

Tuesday - 5/10/2011, 10:52am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

If there is a silver lining in the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure initiative, it can be found behind walls, in the floors and coming into every employee's desk.

BRAC, for all of the negative perceptions and anxiety it is bringing across the federal community, also is acting as a forcing function for major technology upgrades.

The Defense Information Systems Agency and the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region Medical (JTF-CapMed) are two examples of how BRAC pushed the organizations to make much needed changes to how they manage and use information technology.

"What BRAC has been is very much a leveraging action," said Henry Sienkiewicz, DISA's chief information officer. "I think we all recognize, and it's part of this notion of organization dynamics, that organizations at times are reluctant to change. BRAC we knew was a change. BRAC is very clear guidance to say 'You will need to change.' What we've done is look at it and said, 'what other types of behavior, processes and technology changes can we build into the BRAC process without violating any laws or regulations?' We have taken full advantage of it."

DISA is moving 4,600 employees into a new facility at Ft. Meade, Md. DISA says about half of its employees are working in the new building and the other half will be there this summer.

Sienkiewicz said the new building gave DISA an opportunity to make technology changes that normally would have taken years to accomplish.

"We took this opportunity to consolidate the number of circuits that we had coming into the complex, recognizing that we had a whole series of point-to-point circuits into our various facilities in the National Capital Region," he said. "What we did here is consolidated them onto DISN ((Defense Information Systems Network)) backbone as we've told customers to do. That is not to say we have not been doing it. But we had these legacy circuits that this forced us to go and change and to optimize."

Circuits are the hardwires that connect DoD to the classified network, SIPRnet, and unclassified network, NIPRnet.

Just as Sienkiewicz consolidated his circuits, the Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical used BRAC to bring a new medical network infrastructure from a long-time idea to reality.

Chuck Chapdelaine, the deputy CIO for JTF CapMed, said the Army, Air Force and Navy have shared medical data and applications across a common network that was band-aided together over the years.

But with DoD building a new hospital at Ft. Belvoir and the consolidation of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center, Chapdelaine said the time was right create a more efficient and more standardized network.

"When BRAC established a unified command under the Joint Task Force commander that allowed us to say, 'We are all going to get everyone in the room, regardless of our services, we will come together with a plan and we will execute on that plan,'" Chapdelaine said. "When you try to do that in a federated environment, there's so many different variations on the missions between the Army, Navy and Air Force it sometimes is difficult to come to consensus. But when there's one commander who is calling the shots, the unity of command is there. We can say these are the mission priorities for our organization, which is JTF, so therefore we need these solutions."

Chapdelaine said Ft. Belvoir will begin using the joint military network by the end of June. Then, JTF-CapMed will expand its use to National Naval Medical Center and then to satellite offices in the region.

"We are building something that is really new and revolutionary that for many years the medical community has talked about it but this is the first time we've been able to test it, build it and to make it," he said. "And with creating anything new, there are many different challenges and opportunities to hit your own set of roadblocks. We have the design finished. The design looks good. We have purchased almost all of the equipment to put it in place and much of it is installed. We actually have some final testing to do and then we will go live sometime in June."

DISA, meanwhile, already is live with several infrastructure changes.

Sienkiewicz said DISA reduced the number of printers employees use to about 1,000 from 2,500. His office also standardized them and is controlling printers centrally.