Where does DOD enterprise e-mail really stand?

More than a year into the program, there are more questions than ever when it comes to DOD enterprise e-mail.

After migration issues, Microsoft patching, adjustments to tactics, techniques and procedures and some serious hurdles in funding – all of which the Army says have been or will soon be fixed – will 2012 be the year Defense Department enterprise e-mail transcends the rhetoric and speaks for itself?

Maybe not. If DOD enterprise e-mail’s had a murky existence so far, its future is practically opaque. In fact, there are more questions than ever, including three big ones.

Some background: A little less than a year ago, the focus was mostly on Army enterprise e-mail, since it was – and still is – the only service implementing the program. There were questions as to if and when the other services would join, but most concern centered on the technical difficulties the Defense Information Systems Agency and Army CIO were having in migrating e-mail accounts.

Those difficulties were fixed and the Army resumed the migration process, with more than 300,000 accounts migrated to the cloud-based e-mail system being hosted by DISA.

But now it’s on hold yet again, after provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act suspended all of the Army program’s funding pending reports submitted to Congress that detail how it fits in with broader DOD enterprise e-mail plans, the use of fair and open competition in upgrading DOD enterprise e-mail architecture and how the DOD CIO is handling the e-mail capabilities of the other military services.

Question 1: So where does enterprise e-mail stand?

For the Army, it’s at a standstill…for now. But to hear the Army tell it, it’s just another brief pause while the mandates from Congress get squared away.

“Migration stopped upon enactment of the NDAA – pending Army’s compliance with the Act’s requirements,” Margaret McBride, Army CIO spokeswoman, said via e-mail. “The Army must first submit a report to Congress and wait 30 days before spending [fiscal 2012] funds to begin migrating new organizations or installations to enterprise e-mail. The most likely effect is a 45 to 60 day delay in migrations – depending on when the Army submits the required report.”

Question 2: About that report...how does enterprise e-mail fit with broader DOD plans, and how much fair and open competition was used?

While technically that’s two questions, they’re wrapped in one big one: What will this report say? There’s no telling until it comes out, and even then details may be scarce if it’s like the last Army enterprise e-mail report Congress asked for. In May 2011, a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee proposed stripping 98 percent of the initiative’s funding and asked the secretary of the Army to furnish business-case and cost/benefit analyses for moving the service’s e-mail to the DISA cloud. In that case, Army CIO/G-6 did not respond to FCW’s requests to see the report, but the program did move forward.

In terms of how enterprise e-mail fits in with broader DOD, neither the Air Force, Marine Corps nor Navy have said they would join enterprise e-mail. Rather, officials hinted it wasn’t likely, and in August 2011, DOD CIO Teri Takai backed off the idea that all services would be part of the same enterprise e-mail program as the Army.

“Enterprise e-mail doesn’t mean everybody goes to DISA,” Takai said at the time. “What it does mean is we have to get to a common identity management structure, and we have to get to a common directory structure. We have to be able to collaborate. That’s really the infrastructure that is critical here. That’s the architecture we’re looking at now.”

And as for fair and open competition? The devil will be in the details of the congressional report, but back in May, Army Deputy CIO Mike Krieger did say this: “We considered doing an RFP, but DISA gave us a really good deal.”

To answer a question with another question – what happens if Congress doesn’t like what the Army’s and Takai’s reports say?

Question 3: What does this mean for the other services and offices outside the Army?

As previously stated, the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy don’t appear to be on board with DISA-led enterprise e-mail, although inside sources suggest there may be some conversations going on behind the scenes that could involve a change of heart. Given that there was, at some point, an on-the-record stance that the other services would wait and see how the Army’s program shook out, there’s certainly some wiggle room if it is decided that going through DISA may in fact be the most economical option for upgrading aging e-mail systems.

Meanwhile, according to DISA officials, non-Army entities are moving forward with their own plans to implement enterprise e-mail. Tony Montemarano, DISA director of strategic planning and information, said Jan. 17 that the Defense Logistics Agency and Joint Chiefs of Staff are planning migrations; they will join those 300,000+ that have already made the transition.

To be sure, there are a lot of moving parts here, and that doesn’t even include issues like the Army being ordered to designate enterprise e-mail as a formal acquisition program with accompanying oversight and to use commercial technologies whenever possible; or what it will mean for DOD’s new “DISA first” data center consolidation strategy, or what will happen when budget cuts hit.

For now, there are more questions than answers. Some transparency once the reports are filed might help fill in the blanks.