Unified Plan Needed for 21st Century Architecture

By Ronald D. Elliott

The Intelligence Authorization Bill correctly notes the confused state of affairs in our government relative to our national security information systems. It clearly expresses the sense of Congress that computer and communications systems should be integrated to support all the needs of the federal government's national security enterprise. This includes intelligence, command and control of weapons and operational units, transportation of national security resources, medical services and other missions and functions involved in national security operations.

The Congress certainly recognizes that multiple initiatives are funded from scarce taxpayer resources that need unified management to produce an integrated information infrastructure and services to optimize performance and reduce the costs of systems being leased, bought or built. Yet many initiatives being planned and budgeted for are not being truly integrated to produce a cost- effective information infrastructure that most efficiently addresses the national security challenges of the dawning millennium. A prominent example mentioned in the bill is in integrated global satellite broadcast services. Truly integrating government space-based broadcast services with a high-capacity terrestrial information infrastructure is less a technical challenge than it is one of leadership and cooperation among government organizations. Although World Wide Web-based "network-centric" information delivery services are predominant among evolving multimedia defense and intelligence information systems, no consensus is evident regarding the manner in which they are to interface or efficiently interact with simultaneously evolving space-based broadcast services. During the past year, some progress has been made in the Defense Department in framing information dissemination management concepts. However, the manner in which the flow or delivery of information is to be managed across the myriad systems and networks is far from settled. Such questions must be resolved to properly plan and engineer systems and services to cost-effectively and reliably deliver the operational services that are needed. To achieve the efficiencies of scale offered by an integrated worldwide space and terrestrial information exchange service will require much more intense, continuous and serious dialogue among the functional communities with the providers of information systems, infrastructure and services.

Work continues toward an Integrated Broadcast System as a separate program to deliver services lacking clear relationships to those of the Web-based INTELINK service, the Defense Information Systems Network and the Defense Global Broadcast System (GBS). Requiring deployed operating forces to be equipped with many separate systems to obtain information is inefficient and costly. During the past four to five years, millions of scarce DOD dollars have been spent on a GBS, but little consensus has been reached regarding the process for its use to effectively and efficiently deliver needed information to individual users among the operating forces. No strategy is in place to integrate GBS services with those of network-centric information services evolving from separate programs of the various agencies and military departments. Although the technology has matured for direct broadcast of information in visual, graphical and other computer-based forms from space, DOD and the intelligence community haven't agreed on the manner in which operational units that are deployed in forward areas can be cost-effectively equipped with the computers, communications and processes to enable them to efficiently share such broadcasts for updates of critical information that supports all the missions and functions essential to their operational requirements. It's time the user communities that are engaged in national security missions and functions sit down with information technology professionals to map out a truly integrated information infrastructure. They must plan how to effectively provide the information exchange services needed to ensure our nation's security against all threats, in the manner envisioned by the Joint Vision 2010 of the Joint Staff. Action is needed now, not a year from now when a progress report must be delivered to Congress. There has been adequate time and too much money spent without a coherent and comprehensive plan to build an integrated system supporting a unified national security enterprise. It's time for decisions, it's time to get serious, and it's time for the leadership in the intelligence community and DOD to demand an integrated program based on an agreed-upon information dissemination management framework. Certainly DOD and the intelligence community employ enough electronics and computer science engineers to produce such a plan. They're everywhere, engaged in redundant and overlapping activities building the types of information exchange networks and broadcast services needed for discrete national security missions and functions. These expensive, separate activities delay progress and miss the opportunity for synergy and resource-leveraging available through unified enterprise management. A unified program is needed to build an efficient and effective information infrastructure for the 21st century to support all the needs of our national security enterprise. Now is the time for the most senior leadership of DOD and the intelligence community to take to heart the guidance in the authorization bill, firmly establish the policy and put the management in place to produce a unified strategic plan for information systems and information infrastructure for our nation's security enterprise. Anything less should not be tolerated by Congress or by us, the taxpayers.

Elliott is a recently retired federal government executive with more than 30 years in the national security arena. Most recently, Elliott was director of the Intelligence Systems Secretariat, an organization with responsibilities spanning several executive departments and agencies. He served on the federal CIO Council, the Military Intelligence Board and the Military Communications-Electronics Board.

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