DOD's next CIO faces a full plate

EDITOR's NOTE: This story first appeared on

The Defense Department CIO might not be among the top 10 positions the Trump administration is rushing to fill, but the role could have an enormous impact in the coming years.

The department’s next CIO will have a towering inbox thanks to the Trump administration’s stated focus on cybersecurity, DOD’s ongoing transition to the Joint Information Environment and its need to sort out organizational changes mandated in the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Former CIO Terry Halvorsen stepped down in late February after a 37-year career in government, and Principal Deputy CIO John Zangardi stepped in as acting CIO. The Trump administration has yet to fill a number of top DOD positions, which means it could be a while before a permanent successor for Halvorsen is in place.

FCW spoke with Halvorsen; his predecessor, Teri Takai; and Air Force CIO Lt. Gen. Bill Bender about what lies ahead for the next DOD CIO and how he or she should prioritize those challenges.

The org chart imperative

Lawmakers have been tinkering with a number of key DOD positions in recent years. In the fiscal 2016 NDAA, Congress mandated that the CIO should be expanded into a Senate-confirmed chief management officer position — essentially reversing a split that was made when Takai assumed the CIO job in 2010.

In the 2017 NDAA, however, Congress reversed course and countermanded the planned merger.

The new law also mandates splitting the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) into two offices, each led by an undersecretary. One office would be dedicated to research and engineering, and one would focus on acquisition and sustainment.

Additionally, Congress directed the secretary of Defense to optimize the roles and responsibilities of the CIO, deputy chief management officer (DCMO) and the two new undersecretaries.

Halvorsen, however, said he does not expect any substantive changes to the CIO’s role or its interactions with the secretary of Defense and the acquisition offices.

Takai said that although there might not be substantial changes in the organizational chart, the next CIO should lead the way on defining the culture and working relationship between the DCMO and the new undersecretaries. “Frankly, those roles have not played well in the sandbox before, and I think that is really an important part of what Congress is trying to get to,” she said.

She added that the Trump administration has an opportunity to improve IT and management efficiencies at DOD, and “I think the CIO needs to take a leadership role in really addressing the implementation piece of that.”

Bender said it remains to be seen how the breakup of AT&L will affect the next CIO. “There is some prior authority or at least roles and responsibilities that were definitely partnered between AT&L and the CIO,” he said. “It will be interesting to see where they land — most likely with the DCMO.”

Halvorsen acknowledged that there will be changes to how the existing AT&L conducts its business, but “I don’t think those will fundamentally change what the CIO does for AT&L.”

Bender said the next CIO should focus on putting cybersecurity and IT strategies into use at DOD, “given that this environment is driving us to cyberspace as an operational domain.”

“The CIO ought to be in on the discussion chartering the roles and responsibilities of the principal defense cyber adviser,” he added. The 2017 NDAA orders DOD to evaluate whether that position should be strengthened or possibly scrapped.

Bender said he believes the role of DOD’s CIO should be strengthened, but he would also like to see more authority delegated to the CIOs at the individual military services.

“DOD’s CIO should be in the business of developing a strategy and establishing standards to be met and get out of the business of trying to tell the services how to do that,” he said. “The services are all unique in the legacy infrastructure that they bring.”

Bender added that the CIO should not dictate a one-size-fits-all approach to IT modernization across the military. “Tell us the outcome that you want and set the standards to be met and let the services to go about that in the form, fit and fashion that they can do that,” he said.

JIE leads the way

Takai said that once the new CIO sorts out the organizational authorities and relationships, he or she must quickly pivot to the operational priorities.

She, Halvorsen and Bender agree that those priorities are IT modernization, continued migration to the Joint Information Environment’s joint regional security stacks (JRSS), data center consolidation, cloud migration and cybersecurity.

Halvorsen, who drafted the Joint Information Environment strategy document in August 2016, said he expects DOD’s commitment to continue. “I don’t think that will change,” he said, although he acknowledged that it was often a challenge to make officials understand that JIE is a vision rather than a program with strict requirements.

“If you try to get too specific on the JIE vision, you end up being wrong,” he said.

To read the rest of this article, click here.


About the Author

Sean Carberry is a former FCW staff writer who focused on defense, cybersecurity and intelligence.

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