Leadership Void for National Security Computing & Communications

By Ronald D. Elliott

It's time for someone to speak out regarding the abominable state of affairs at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in managing command and control, communications and intelligence (C3I), particularly in managing information and information technologies needed for these missions and functions so critical to our national security.

For over a year the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3I (ASD(C3I)) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) has lacked permanent and consistent leadership and suffered increasing deterioration of its senior staff. Perhaps worse, the confusion in OSD regarding whether (or how) to manage C3I and related information technology critical to national defense systems represents a vulnerability to our national security of increasing proportions. While billions were being spent through the national defense budget on information technologies, during the past year the office designated to oversee that spending, to produce sophisticated systems envisioned by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been run by a series of temporary fill-ins. No wonder that many emerging systems and programs run by separate services and agencies lack the level of security, interoperability and integration needed to achieve the vision. As a nation, we are all reminded that vision without action (direction of orchestrated activities to achieve the vision) is fantasy.

In an era within which our national leadership, including our most senior military leaders are espousing the need for "information dominance," to have the Office of ASD (C3I) and Defense Department Chief Information Officer (CIO) without full-time qualified and permanent leadership for months on end is unbelievable! Besides obvious impacts from the lack of continuous and consistent direction toward the goals espoused by our nation's leaders (military and civilian), this leadership void has engendered gradual deterioration and demoralization of the experienced professional staff of that office. The latter has led to increased disarray and confusion throughout the Defense C3I community. But the spending goes on.

Similarly, recognizing the symbiotic relationship of intelligence information and the information services and automated systems involved in national command and control and communications, we must also be concerned regarding attention to government-wide intelligence information and information systems management. In recent months, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Community Management Staff (CMS) has seen continued change and declining leadership generally, and specifically in its management and oversight of information and information technology/systems. Though previous DCIs and senior staff placed great importance on Community management of information and information technology investments, the level of attention at that level to information and information technology management has waned of late. Even the Intelligence Systems Secretariat (ISS), put in place in by a previous generation of leaders to improve management of intelligence computer and communications systems across OSD and DCI domains, drifts in disarray with no permanent Director or agreement on its mission and functions.

Like the Joint Staff, the Intelligence Community has a vision (to become a "more agile intelligence enterprise" partly through a joint "virtual intelligence environment"); but no clearly recognized Community information management office has been instituted and given the necessary authority and resources to effectively oversee intelligence information and information systems and technology management to achieve that vision. Neither is attention being given to administering community-wide information and information technology management consistent with the management principles established by the National Performance Review (NPR) Report and Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 (also called the Information Technology Management Reform Act). As in OSD, even the position of the CMS Executive Director is empty, filled by an "acting" appointee with minimal Community management experience.

The NPR Report and Clinger-Cohen Act clearly establish the necessity of the entire Federal Government exploiting information technology and managing government information as a critical capital resource. Certainly, few would argue the management principles they establish, but we must all be amazed at the paucity of attention given by the offices of the Secretary of Defense and DCI to establishing and continuously maintaining permanent institutional executive managers to apply them.

Recognizing the need to have uninterrupted stewardship of national defense command and control, communications and intelligence and related national security information and technology management, Emmett Paige, the last Assistant Secretary and Defense Department Chief Information Officer, gave many months notice of his retirement. However, meager notice was taken and after months of waiting patiently for a successor to be appointed, he departed last year with the position being temporarily filled since with a series of "acting" or "senior civilian" officials. More alarming, after his departure, months were wasted through subsequently reconsidered decisions to dismantle the office entirely, leading to further confusion and disarray across the Defense Department and Intelligence Community.

As a nation, we are becoming increasingly aware of the vulnerabilities of our national sanctuary related to unprecedented dependence upon inadequately planned and defended national and defense information services and infrastructure. Thus, for the national security enterprise of our government to not have strong capable managers in place in related critical leadership positions is distressing to most of us, to say the least. In fact, the necessity of having appropriately experienced and capable officials in place to manage federal government information and information technology is established in a law carrying the name of the Secretary of Defense himself. For appropriately equipped information and information technology management officials to be missing at OSD and at the CMS is an abominable state of affairs. One that reeks of mismanagement of one of the most important functions of our national security and deserves the attention of none other than the President of the United States and we the nation's citizens who he has sworn to protect.

About the Author: Ronald Elliott recently retired from the senior executive service of the federal government. He served in the national security arena for thirty years with his final position being that of 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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