The Defense Information Systems Agency is currently in the midst of one of the toughest and tightest budgetary situation in decades, according to its executive deputy director.

"In 28 years at DISA, I have never seen such budgetary limitations. …This has been the tightest we had," Tony Montemarano said at a breakfast hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's D.C. chapter on Thursday. "Every time we do something at DISA we have to come up with an innovative way of doing it."

Montemarano pleaded to the members of industry present in the audience that if they have a solution, it has to be cost effective. "If we're going to bring something new in, we have to take something old" out, he said. "We are adopting and we are buying … very, very few things are we actually creating. So if you're in the creation business, I'm here to tell you it's going to be limited opportunities there."

It's buying — taking commercial solutions and adopting them to military problems — that's the game in which DISA is currently participating, he said.

David Bennett, whose job is to oversee the operations of essentially all of the agency's products, said his priority is to change everything. One of the most profound changes at the agency is the combination of the implementation and sustainment center and the operations center, he said, referencing the recent reorganization of the agency.

It's the first time DISA has put such a broad portfolio under one individual. Bennett has the ability to implement, sustain, operate and defend everything that is in the Department of Defense Information Network (DoDIN) for which DISA is responsible.

Bennett cited one big change that’s currently in the formulation stage: how the agency operates and defends the network. From a Department of Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) perspective, which is DISA’s portion of the DoDIN, DISA is looking at how NetOps centers are located, how they’re structured, how they’re managed and how to provide consistency across the enterprise to ensure defense of the network.

Additionally, within that sphere, Bennett said DISA is looking into how it can redesign the DISN.

Consider this $24 billion enterprise and the desire to take it how it is today - a conglomeration of different scenarios -  into a more dynamic environment so that it can change with little to no notice, while also being able to react to cyberthreats — known or unknown — and then self-heal to prevent outages, he said.

Other members of DISA’s leadership present at the breakfast compared NetOps — or management of the network — and cyber operations. Merging these two roles seems to be the best option both under the purview of constrained budgets and eliminating stovepipes.

Bringing these two functions together, Bennett said, is an easy question to ask but a difficult question to answer. Operators understand their missions and problem sets, but they’re only as capable as the tools with which they're provided.

However, training is also a concern here. While some are proficient with one tool, others new to the capability require instructions before they can master it, he said.

Without extra cash flow, DISA is pushing to eliminate tools and redundant capacities across the environment, Bennett said. The agency is looking for multifaceted capabilities that apply to both NetOps and cyber operations to save money, and its asking industry for help there.

Bennett doesn’t think DISA can afford to keep NetOps and cyber operations personnel separate; the roles must be integrated. In this scenario, the dual-hat personnel would monitor traffic and respond to network threats.

'No. 1 cyber initiative'

Panelists also discussed how DISA and the DoD is moving forward with Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS), a major priority for outgoing Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen and a cornerstone for the Joint Information Environment.

John Hickey, DISA’s director of its Cyber Development Directorate, described JRSS as "our No. 1 cyber initiative." The key over the next year, he continued, is going to be training operators on that stack as they transition from base camp and station approach to a more joint approach that gives visibility to the operators at U.S. Cyber Command and its defensive operational arm, Joint Force Headquarters-DoDIN. CYBERCOM is leading the concept of operations for this effort.

JRSS will give CYBERCOM Commander Adm. Michael Rogers "a view of the entire enterprise at the DoD level," Army CIO Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell told reporters in October. "Today he probably said he could not see across the street in many of the separate networks, but what this JRSS construct would do is give him that visibility top-down looking at anomalies in the environment and then being able to contain."

Brig. Gen. Robert Skinner, the deputy commander of JFHQ-DoDIN, described JRSS as a trendsetter within DoD, in that it is forcing the department to work on operationally accepting capabilities into the DoDIN, something he said they don’t do a very good job of.