Dec 31 2009

DISA Director Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom Jr.

Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom Jr. likes to see the good, even when things are a challenge. As the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO), his team is at the hub of Defense Department efforts to unify systems and communications services under a common information technology framework for users throughout DOD.

Croom says the warfighters and their needs keep him focused on DISA's core missions and initiatives. At DISA and before that, working in the Air Force CIO's office, he has been a staunch advocate of
getting DOD to act smarter and quicker in fielding IT.

Since coming to DISA last year, Croom says he has had to do very little to motivate members of his staff to take on this challenge, and that their drive to achieve actually motivates him. "Their ongoing persistence in pursuit of excellence and real-time solutions, even on roads that haven't been paved yet, is inspiring."

Croom talks with FedTech about how DISA is supporting changes in Defense's IT landscape.

FedTech: You just celebrated a year at DISA's helm. What do you consider as chief accomplishments when it comes to IT?

Croom: I'm proud of the work DISA and the JTF-GNO have continued over the past year, working with the combatant commands (COCOMs), services and agencies to break down barriers that prevent rapid, secure, global information exchange. We've ensured the availability of Global Information Grid capabilities worldwide and achieved full operational capability of the transformational GIG–Bandwidth Expansion. Additionally, DISA-led acquisition programs, like Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) and Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC), are breaking through roadblocks and moving toward delivering net-centricity to the warfighter and enabling DOD's Data Strategy.

All the credit goes to the DISA seniors, who perform as a very strong team, and to the vice director, Army Maj. Gen. Marilyn Quagliotti, for her exceptional leadership.
DISA's accomplishments are many:

  • The ABC — Adopt, Buy, Create — acquisition approach, emphasizing speed to the customer, took its first steps when Army Knowledge Online was adopted as DOD's portal solution, and we extended a commercial solution for DOD-wide collaboration.
  • We made progress using performance-based contracting on the enterprise collaboration services' request for
  • With the assistance of the testing community, we are looking at innovative testing methodologies like the federated development and certification environment.
  • We achieved better visibility and access of DISA senior leadership to industry.
  • Our new DISA strategy was published, and we made significant progress toward an independent financial, or clean audit, decision by 2008.
  • Under the direction of the Strategic Command, JTF-GNO has taken command of the GIG and is implementing security measures networkwide.
  • We continue to build on our strong alliances with the COCOMs, services, agencies and the staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
  • We evolved our acquisition organization into a program executive officer structure to provide better oversight and management of all DISA programs and projects.

FedTech: On the flip side, what are some things you still want to accomplish?

Croom: Over the last year, I've emphasized speed. The acquisition process is too slow. We haven't come far enough in reducing the size and complexity of the requirements process or the acquisition documentation. It just takes too long to acquire IT, and lengthy acquisition times lead to higher costs. A new testing methodology needs to be developed for information systems. New certification and accreditation processes must be developed. The current methods are inconsistent and too slow. Processes to co-evolve doctrine and concepts of operations along with technology are urgently required.

The second area we need to bring to conclusion is our approach to enterprisewide systems engineering. We are discovering how much engineering is enough, and how we tie it to our decision-making processes.

Finally, protecting our networks and the information riding those networks remains a critical priority. Improving our network command and control; implementing networkwide techniques, tactics and procedures; employing identity management; enhancing machine-to-machine interfaces for faster command and control; and applying strong configuration management are keys to bringing discipline and security to our global networks. A lot of good work remains to be done.

FedTech: DISA has worked hard to improve its image as a customer support agency, with your customers being other central DOD agencies and the services. Do you have a best-practices approach to interacting with other Defense organizations? What are the crucial elements?

Croom: We are working with our mission partners to provide capabilities to our warfighters in the most expeditious and cost-effective ways. With that in mind, teaming, sharing, cooperating with the COCOMS, services and agencies (by the way, that includes adopting capabilities they've developed, when appropriate) improves our effectiveness and allows DISA to extend capabilities to the battlefield.

One way we do this is through the DISA 500 Day Plan, which documents a shared agreement with our customers on the way ahead. We use the 500 Day Plan to build our work plan and build the targets against which we measure our success. Face-to-face meetings with our customers are also important to ensure we understand their intent and they are aware of our capabilities. Also, because three-quarters of our revenue comes directly from our customers, it's important that they understand the cost structure for the services we provide them.

We are working hard to improve financial transparency and achieve full-and-open disclosure of our costs, to achieve a clean financial audit in 2008.

FedTech: The agency runs several programs that are fundamental to the broader DOD goal of achieving net-centricity — GIG-BE, Net-Centric Enterprise Services, security, the Teleport program, the Global Command and Control System, to name a few. How do you make sure that these programs meet their milestones and simultaneously account for changes in any given program that affect the others?

Croom: You've identified some of the on-going challenges related to the DOD's net-centric transformation. In the past, DISA was known as a systems provider. Over time, DISA shifted into the role of providing enterprise services and capabilities. In light of this changing role, DISA adjusted its organization so that acquisition programs are organized within a portfolio management structure.

DISA's four portfolios — Command & Control Capabilities; Satellite Communications, Teleport & Services; Information Assurance and Network Operations; and GIG Enterprise Services — are now all organized under our component acquisition executive, Diann McCoy. This organization and arrangement allows us to promote the flow of information within and between portfolios, and to make decisions within portfolios where common threads exist.

FedTech: If you could do one thing differently since your arrival at DISA, what would it be and why?

Croom: My priority has been to do everything I can imagine to make DISA and its people successful.
The warfighter is our No. 1 customer, and it never leaves our thoughts that young men and women in harm's way depend on us for their survival. So, there's nothing I'm waiting until the future to change.

If something needs to be changed, we change it now. If I, or the DISA team, find we've made a poor decision or should approach an issue differently, we change. We change and adjust course as we become smarter — each day, I hope.

We are not satisfied where we are; we demand change from ourselves so we can be better tomorrow.

FedTech: How does the drive to transform the department and make it a more cohesive environment, both technically and operationally, affect your work?

Croom: DISA is squarely in the middle of DOD's drive toward net-centricity; it's part of just about everything we do. In fact, it's inspirational to look at what the commercial world is doing. We know that if we adopt some of these commercial practices, we can deliver IT better and faster. The processes we are advocating aren't just visions; they are real-world commercial practices that can absolutely transform what we do in DOD — that's pretty exciting.

Cooperative piloting of new capabilities, reduced size of requirements and contracting documents, and federated testing are just some of the initiatives. On the operations side, JTF-GNO has been leading the way in making enterprise tools available and establishing processes that not only give local network administrators more control of their local enclaves but also provide JTF-GNO more awareness of activities across the GIG. We are beginning to see more machine-to-machine interfaces and control of the network. This is a win-win approach we'll continue to pursue.

FedTech: You have spoken openly about the need to turn around projects quickly and make deliverables ready to field in shorter timeframes. Do you feel DISA is doing this or still needs to do better? What are the impediments or hurdles in getting services to the field?

Croom: We're not only working to get capabilities to the field faster but to do it securely and in cooperation with the warfighter and DOD acquisition communities. Efforts like the Federated Development and Certification Environment — which will allow warfighters, developers and acquisition people to work collaboratively — enhance the likelihood that the right services are made available to the field sooner. Also, the department's testing community has been leaning forward on an early user test approach (based upon commercial Web service providers' best practices), which makes new services available first to small groups and then to larger customer groups as the services are proven to be both useful and of acceptable risk.

We still have a ways to go in achieving speed throughout our acquisition process. We have some good ideas in trial, and time will tell how DOD corporate processes adopt these ideas. We all need to do better; DISA is no exception. Change needs to be a way of life; we shouldn't be satisfied with our current processes for bringing IT to the men and women fighting our nation's wars. We just take too long. They deserve better from us.

FedTech: How has having served in front-line commands helped you in guiding programs at DISA? How does DISA align its programs with the needs of commanders and warfighters?

Croom: Anyone who has worked for a combatant commander understands who fights the nation's wars and the urgency of the COCOMs' requirements. DISA addresses COCOMs' forecasted needs through the 500 Day Plan. DISA has field commanders with every COCOM. They act as our eyes and ears to ensure we have in-depth understanding of COCOM requirements. The J6s 's [the COCOM systems chiefs] consider our commanders as part of their team, integrating them into the operations of the COCOMs.

Constant lines of communication are required to stay in tune with warfighters' changing requirements. DISA works very hard to ensure we always stay focused on warfighting needs.

FedTech: How does DISA recruit technically skilled employees?

Croom: I've openly shared my belief that our people are truly our most important resource. We recruit new employees into DISA at all levels, starting with high school students working part-time up through hiring senior-level talent, including Senior Executive Service members and highly qualified experts.

The average DISA employee has 18 years of federal service, giving DISA a wealth of experience that would be nearly impossible to re-create. To support our workforce, DISA's director of manpower, personnel and security, Jack Penkoske, and his team have established a broad range of career development and quality-of-life programs — telework, compressed work schedules and wellness programs — that DISA employees want to tell their friends about. I also believe the biggest selling point is the exciting and challenging mission that we perform for the Defense Department and our nation.

FedTech: Are there any tips you can offer on how to determine if someone has the right skills to succeed and adapt with a team - even become a leader?

Croom: Strong core values — like the Air Force's integrity, service and excellence — are the only place to start when looking for leaders. Second, it's all about inspiring and taking care of people. After that, leaders and team members need to nurture a positive mental attitude and have plenty of energy. Leaders will stand out by their abilities to maintain a balanced perspective and to clearly articulate a vision for the team.

FedTech: Defense has long used a tour-of-duty approach to assigning military officers to manage programs. How does this benefit the programs? Is there a downside?

Croom: Rather than a tour-of-duty approach, DISA tries to assign its military officers so that they work with a program and provide continuity through a major acquisition milestone (or milestones) and/or key events during that officer's assignment at DISA. But, in the end, DISA is about teamwork. Our best teams are a combination of government civilians, contractors and military members. Each brings unique, value-added capabilities to the fight — and we are better for it.

FedTech: How do you inspire those who work for you to succeed? How have others inspired you in your work for the government?

Croom: I believe people want to succeed. Those who remember why we are here, supporting the brave men and women who are in harm's way defending our country's freedoms, don't need me for inspiration. What inspires me is looking at our total DISA and JTF-GNO team of government civilians, military and contractors. Their on-going persistence in pursuit of excellence and real-time solutions, even on roads that haven't been paved yet, is inspiring. I love being part of a professional team, and that's what we have at DISA.