AUGUSTA, Ga. — U.S. Army leadership is mulling advancing and expanding its preliminary test of Google Workspace, a suite that could soothe the service’s previous information technology troubles that left thousands without working email.

Senior officials will decide the pilot’s next steps “over the next several weeks,” Lt. Gen. John Morrison, deputy chief of staff, G-6, said Aug. 17. He provided few other details.

“We’ve got champions that are in that environment. We are learning about it,” the top uniformed Army IT official said on the sidelines of the AFCEA TechNet Augusta conference. “We are getting all the tactics, techniques and procedures that we need to.”

The Army quietly began beta testing Google Workspace earlier this year. The ongoing pilot mirrors others under the Army umbrella, including the bring your own device initiative, which lets soldiers and staff connect to government systems using personal electronics.

The Google platform is a front-running option to serve troops who may have lost access to official email accounts amid a turbulent transition from Defense Enterprise Email and its addresses to the Army 365 system, involving Microsoft-based products. The new Army 365 suite includes an email, but the Army decided not all soldiers required them.

“Everybody knows that Defense Enterprise Email is on a path to sunset conditions-based, and I’ve said that before,” Morrison said. “So that’s really what we’re taking a look at.”

According to documents and briefings obtained by Army Times last year, around 250,000 personnel — predominantly junior enlisted soldiers — were not included in the service’s Army 365 licensing plan, with sources describing the decision as cost-driven. The service publicly committed to maintaining official email access for those members by building an “alternate email solution” after Army Times reported it had considered eliminating their email.

Morrison reiterated that commitment Wednesday.

“What we are committed to,” he said, “is making sure that every one of our soldiers, regardless of [component], all of our DA civilians and the appropriate contractors have access to Army email capabilities and the capabilities they need to do their mission.”

The so-called solution hasn’t quickly materialized, though, and the Army had to press the Defense Information Security Agency to extend the life of the old email system as a bridging measure. Soldiers posting online have reported problems accessing official email in the intervening months, with some claiming their accounts had been terminated altogether.

The G-6′s top general said that such cases are exceptions rather than the norm, adding that the service is “continuing to do periodic assessments” on the email population to ensure troops aren’t losing their official inbox.

Those who do lose access may have trouble with various administrative tasks, such as completing sensitive forms, using the service’s tuition assistance benefits or even receiving training reservation information for upcoming military schools.

Morrison said he thinks the Army is “getting much better at catching” account deletion “when it happens.”

Why Google might get the gig

Army Chief Information Officer Raj Iyer in a July statement told C4ISRNET and Army Times the service “is committed to providing our Soldiers the communications and collaboration capabilities they need to perform their missions” and that additional information about Google Workspace would be shared “as soon as we are able.”

Exactly how many people are involved in the testing is unclear; the cohort has been described as limited. Google Workspace is currently used by the Defense Innovation Unit, the Army Software Factory and the Air Force Research Laboratory, among other federal entities.

Google recently announced that its Workspace product earned the Department of Defense’s Impact Level 4, or IL4, authorization, which is tied to the handling of controlled unclassified information and its requisite security measures.

The suite achieved FedRAMP High authorization months prior.

“In an environment with a handful of legacy technology providers, public sector customers now have more choice to pick a secure communications and collaboration platform — Google Workspace — to advance their missions securely, retain their workforce (whether in-office or remotely), and save on costs,” the company said in a statement July 20.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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