Takai: DoD CIO can't 'mandate' culture change

Monday - 8/22/2011, 1:33pm EDT

Jared Serbu, DoD reporter, Federal News Radio

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By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

Like other federal CIOs, the Defense Department's chief information officer has some new authority, thanks to an Office of Management and Budget memo issued earlier this month. But DoD's CIO said she has no intention of managing the military services by edict. And the memo won't change that.

Among other things, the OMB memo gave agency CIOs full authority over their commodity information technology spending. But Pentagon CIO Teri Takai said DoD is a large enterprise with effective CIOs in each of the military services. She has no intention of telling each service precisely how to allocate their IT dollars.

"I don't have any illusion that it makes any sense for me to try to control the more than $38 billion we spend," she said. "That's a construct that would never work, and it shouldn't work. The work that's being done in the services is the real work, and it's the work that closest to those that need to work done. It's getting done very, very well. We'd like it to cost a little less, and we'd like it to be less painful, but I think it's very important for us to know it's getting done."

Takai said even if she has the authority to mandate changes to many of the culture-driven IT spending decisions in the military services, issuing those mandates would be a bad idea. In a roundtable briefing with reporters at the Defense Information Systems Agency's annual conference in Baltimore, she said her job is to understand the needs of the military services and try to meet them in a way that benefits DoD as an enterprise.

"Starting from the belief that no matter how much power you have, you can mandate [culture change], isn't going to be successful in any sense," she said. "Having said that, you do have to get to the point where as you establish what the enterprise should do, that there are directives. And in some cases, there are consequences for noncompliance for those things that are really critical."

Takai said her office will take an active role in the oversight of DoD's overall IT budget. She said she and her staff are also working on forthcoming directives dealing with information assurance on mobile devices, as well as commercial cloud services. She said those directives would be pivotal for the department, but did not provide details.

Takai spoke with reporters just after she moderated a panel discussion with the CIOs of all four of DoD's military services at the DISA conference. On the panel, she broached the topic of the Army's new enterprise email system and the way email addresses on the new system look. Instead of army.mil, users addresses are now within the new mail.mil domain.

The Army designed the system that way because it wanted the DISA-provided service to be a joint enterprise from the beginning, said Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army's CIO.

She also knew going in that even the seemingly small matter of removing individual service identities from email addresses would be a tough sell to some of the other services, she said.

"We earned the title United States Marines, and we are damn proud of it," said Brig. Gen. Kevin Nally, the Marines' CIO, as he rose from his chair on the panel. "You can have at whatever dot-mil you want to have, but you're not changing my culture."

"I loved the fact that the Marines stood up and stated where they are," Takai said following the panel. "That's much better than saying, in the background, ‘she's crazy and we're not going to do it anyway.' And so what we've established is an openness to have debates. I picked email addresses deliberately to talk about this morning, because I knew there wasn't agreement. So the dialogue's going to be around what the pros and cons are. What's the benefit to the individual service, versus the pros and cons to an individual who has the ability to move around in DoD? What are the costs of all these email systems? What are the security implications? We'll continue to have that debate.

Takai said she has no intention of issuing a mandate on enterprise email addressing schemes, nor will she order the rest of the services to get on board with the DISA private cloud email system, as the Army and several combatant commands have. She said she would rather see the services adopt it because they see value in it.