Doing business with DISA

Rebecca Harris, DISA <@VM>General Info

Rebecca Harris

Full title:
GIG enterprise services engineering director

Took the job:


Home now:
Newington, Va.

Hobbies: Riding horses since she was six years old. Trains and shows horses and teaches riding.

Last book read: "Leadership" by Rudolph Giuliani

Alma mater: Bachelor's of science degree in biology with an emphasis on microbiology, minor in chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Rebecca Harris, DISA

WT: The agency's Web site has a heading called "Core Services" and several listed underneath that heading. Which of these is a top priority right now?

Harris: We have several core services. We provide the communications infrastructure for the Defense Department called [the Defense Information Systems Network]. That's clearly one of our major business areas. The other is we do joint command and control systems. We have the Global Combat and Control Systems and Global Combat Support System that are used by the warfighters. We also have computing services for the department; we do information assurance for DISA and DOD.

WT: Security must be a big issue for you.

Harris: Security is always something you think about. You have to weigh it with risk management. As we put more of our information on the network, we have to ensure that we are monitoring the traffic on the network, the access to it, assuring that the right people have access to the data. It's a daily thing. You have to factor in security upfront as you design and develop a system or capability.

WT: You are responsible for the information resources in Iraq. What has the Iraq war meant to your operations at DISA?

Harris: Operations Iraq Freedom and Enduring Freedom have shown us that communications and information are more important than ever to the warfighter. The demand for access to communication has grown exponentially since we started those. One thing that was really used during the effort is Blue-Force Tracking [a type of situational awareness], and the increased access with satellite and terrestrial communications to support.

WT: Was that something new?

Harris: I believe this was the first time it was used. My feedback has been that it's been very successful. Like anything, we have ways to continue to improve, but it is changing the way that we go into those events.

WT: Have there been any lessons so far from Iraq?

Harris: I think we realize that information and communications are important. We also realize that agility and ability to provide support more quickly will be important in an environment like that. We provided several enhancements out of cycle to some of our systems to support warfighter needs. The other thing we learned is how important joint interoperability is and that ConOps [concept of operations] is also critical to how we insert and use technology.

WT: Everyone talks about enterprise architecture these days. What are the EA plans at DISA?

Harris: We do have an EA effort at DISA. It's managed and run by our chief information officer. The architecture provides that blueprint that helps us know not only where we are today, but also a vision and roadmap for where we want to be. We ensure that our architecture efforts are tied into what is going on in DOD and in the federal sector, so we can make sure interoperability is worked along those lines.

WT: Is there particular technology that is a priority right now for you?

Harris: We have a big push in the department to transform to a net-centric environment, so we're putting more of our applications and capabilities and services onto the network, so those technologies associated with making that happen are important to us. The other thing is we've put more of our product services onto the network, and we need to be able to do network operations: Monitor the network, ensure that the information is getting to the user, that the user experience is one of quality and is acceptable to the user.

If a resource would have to be diverted to priority applications or services, we have the tactics, techniques and procedures in place to ensure that our customers are getting what they need. I think those are really areas we're focused on.

WT: How has technology changed what you do and the mission of the agency?

Harris: The improvements in technology over the years have allowed the divide between the haves and have-nots to be smaller. A lot of people are getting access to technology. All of our workstations are powerful, so all users have capability at their fingertips that they didn't have years ago.

We have to make sure we are delivering capability faster, that we are using commercial technologies; DISA doesn't want to reinvent an application that we can pull off the shelf and incorporate into our toolset. We look for best commercial technologies that support our needs.

I would say the technology improvements that made us more agile. Also, technology is not a silver bullet. You can buy all the great technology in the world, but if you don't have the ConOps behind it, if you haven't looked at how your business processes can be enhanced or modified as you incorporate technology into them, you're losing your benefit and the power of what it can do for you.

Technology, everybody has it, but I think we also have to look at the processes we have in place and how we may have to adjust those or create new ones to take advantage of the new capabilities that are really, literally, at our fingertips.

WT: What do you look for in companies with which you are thinking of doing business?

Harris: We look at a combination of things. For certain applications, we might want contractors with proven track records. Other areas we look at startup companies, maybe niche technologies to help us solve a problem for the warfighter. I guess I would couch it as we're looking for contractors that can help us deliver capabilities to support our customers.

WT: For a company that is new to working with the DISA and has something to offer you, where is a good place to start?

Harris: One, we have technology insertion panels. This would be at a program level where vendors could come in and brief us on their products, do demonstrations. The other way is we put out requests for information, and we welcome vendors and contractors feedback, recommendations and proposals on a way ahead. We put a lot of stuff in FedBizOpps, so you can really get an idea there of what we're looking for.

WT: A year from now, where would you like to see DISA technologywise? What would you like to see in place?

Harris: As an agency, we'll have up [the Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion]. We'll have done some of our net-centric enterprise pilots. One of my missions besides the joint net-centric applications is what I call the care and feeding of our engineers at DISA.

We have a home-team concept; DISA has long recognized that the key to our success is our people. So we want to make sure we have programs in place that expose our engineers to new technologies, provide them training and exciting assignments so we can continue to develop our workforce.

We really recognize that for us to support our customers, we have to have not only a technically competent workforce, but agile, and we need to ensure our processes are pretty standard and disciplined across all of our product lines, so we can get the most value from our folks. So I know that we will see some of those processes under way for education and rotation assignments of our folks.

Defense Information Systems Agency

P.O. Box 4502

Arlington, VA 22204


Founded: May 12, 1960 as the Defense Communications Agency

Director: Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege Jr.

Chief of staff: Air Force Col. Bill Staton

Employees: 2,553 military, 5,447 civilian

What it does

DISA is a combat support agency responsible for planning, engineering, acquiring, fielding, and supporting Global Net-Centric Solutions and operating the Defense Information System Network to serve the needs of the President, Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, and the other DOD Components, under all conditions of peace and war.

Number Crunching

2005 request: $1 billion

2004 budget: $1.1 billion

Things to note:

DISA offers a nice, neat package of information on doing business with it at main/support/contracts/index.html. Called the 2004 DISA Contracts Guide, it offers info on everything you need to know about its blanket purchase agreements, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts and working with industry. Definitely gives this a look. DISA also lists contracting opportunities on

DISA has absorbed many agencies as components since its founding in 1960. A history of the agency ( explains well what former agencies constitute DISA.

The Defense Communications Agency was renamed DISA in 1991. The same year, Defense Management Report Decisions 918 created the Defense Information Infrastructure, now known as the Global Information Grid. DISA consolidated several information processing centers into 16 megacenters, then consolidated them further into five mainframe processing centers.

DISA's consolidation of its computing services is continuing and is expected to reduce by 1,200 the number of its employees by September 2005, when DISA computing services will feature a headquarters component, four production system management centers and several processing sites.

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