The Defense Information Systems Agency is on the chopping block in new legislation from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who’s on a mission to slash Pentagon bureaucracy.
In proposed legislation unveiled April 17, Thornberry outlined plans that would close DISA by January 1, 2021, transferring all IT contracting, acquisition services and senior leader communications functions to “other elements of the Department of Defense.” Any functions and personnel not transferred as part of that directive would be eliminated, according to the proposal.
The bill also fully transfers the Joint Force Headquarters-DoD Information Networks organization to U.S. Cyber Command.
DISA oversees the operation of DoD networks and IT, as well as significant parts of federal communications, mobility, satellite communications and cloud services. JFHQ-DoDIN in in charge of defending DoD networks at the operational level.
The Thornberry bill directs the DoD deputy chief management officer to submit to Congress by March 1, 2020, plans for the closure and transfers of functions.
But this isn’t the first time DISA and its operations have been targeted in the search for Pentagon efficiencies.
In 2010 then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates rolled out plans to save the department $100 billion by centralizing defense IT infrastructure, consolidating key IT functions and closing the office that housed the Pentagon’s CIO role, the assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration. The proposal also moved the CIO function to DISA.
Other previous plans, including some directed by then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, called for moving the Joint Staff’s command-and-control elements and IT-focused groups from the former Joint Forces Command to CYBERCOM.
CYBERCOM itself actually evolved from elements of DISA, as well as U.S. Strategic Command and NSA. Originally, DISA’s late-1990s Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense expanded into the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations, which was later rolled into CYBERCOM.
But it’s not clear if CYBERCOM is necessarily the best place for those functions – something the agencies’ organizational history underscores, according to DISA’s former top technology official.
About five years after the launch of CYBERCOM, leaders came back to then-DISA Director Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins and asked to reestablish the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations “’because there are things we don’t have time to do and we’re not good at doing in network operations and defense,’” said Dave Mihelcic, former DISA CTO now at Juniper Networks. “So now we’re talking about taking those assets and rolling them into CYBERCOM, when they were missions CYBERCOM didn’t want to do in the first place.”
It’s also uncertain that a defense IT reorganization would yield what Thornberry is targeting in the new bill. That’s the conclusion officials came to last time defense officials were on a sweeping hunt for IT efficiencies and savings, in the directives ordered by Gates and Cartwright.
“We [previously] had a large analysis of DoD missions and functions targeting IT efficiencies, and at one point they looked at rolling DISA’s functions under a combination of the military services and CYBERCOM,” Mihelcic said. “But what they found in the detailed analysis then was that it was actually going to require a significant investment to effect that change, and the savings were not significant over time.”
Besides closing DISA, Thornberry’s proposal also would eliminate the Defense Technical Information Center, the Office of Economic Adjustment, the Defense Technology Security Administration, the Test Resource Management Center, Washington Headquarters Services and the Defense Human Resources Activity.
DISA has a total budget of nearly $10 billion and more than 5,000 employees and 7,500 contractors. Officials there did not respond to a request for comment.