Streamlining the DoD

By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2007-08-28 Print this article Print
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Streamlining the DoD's Systems

In addition to its other challenges, the military is working in the midst of a years-long mandate to streamline and modernize the Defense Department's stovepiped computer systems, some of which are custom-coded and decades old-yet still important to getting troops and supplies home. Some of this work began in 2003 because of problems getting equipment and supplies into Iraq after the war started. Repair parts and other material piled up because they were inefficiently packed and had to be manually sorted once they arrived. Troops kept reordering because the computers couldn't tell them where the stuff was. The Government Accountability Office, which conducts investigations for Congress, found a $1.2 billion discrepancy between material shipped to the Army and material received by the troops.

Even today, the GAO says, Defense has 2,980 separate business systems. And some of the business systems the Defense Department uses to support the troops have been labeled "high-risk" by the GAO for several years. As of April 30, they say, more than 54,000 cargo containers in Iraq and Afghanistan were missing. At a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee meeting on July 10, Gen. Norton Schwartz, in charge of the Transportation Command, told senators that the command has two port management systems—one from the Army and one from the Air Force—left over from the days when the services developed their own. They are being merged, Norton said, "so that if Marines arrive or Army arrives or Air Force arrives, we'll be operating essentially the same piece of software."

Different parts of the Defense Department are working on separate plans for modernizing their business systems. The Marines and the Army, for example, are installing software packages from arch-rivals to make their supply chains more efficient. The Marines chose Oracle's E-Business Suite; the Army, SAP's mySAP suite. Groups across the Defense Department are consolidating servers and databases and creating service-oriented architectures so different systems can communicate more efficiently. All individual projects are supposed to fit into a departmentwide Business Enterprise Architecture, a blueprint that specifies data standards, business rules and operating requirements. The GAO says that architecture is now filtering down to the services. Project completion dates stretch out to 2015 and beyond.

While all this work happens, intermediate projects that are important to success in Iraq—building interfaces, for example, between the Defense Logistics Agency's Integrated Data Environment and the Transportation Command's Global Transportation Network, so the military can see supplies as they travel from the warehouse in the U.S. to the battlefield and back—continue, although some of the most important integration has yet to be done. Mae De Vincentis, chief information officer for the Defense Logistics Agency, says this particular project is "in its infancy."

The faster the U.S. tries to move out of Iraq, the more intense the challenge and the more stress put on the Defense Department's planners and systems. In August 2003, Diamond says, he was processing a brigade of the Third Infantry Division out of Camp Arifjan. Orders were to reunite troops with their families as quickly as possible because they'd been away for nine months and were nearing the end of their 12-month tour of duty. (Tours have since been extended to 15 months.) But the troops' hasty departures meant that it took months to sort and process the equipment they left behind. Each piece of ammunition had to be examined by hand, Diamond says, to make sure it was functional before it could be packed and reassigned.

Indeed, nobody expects the exit from Iraq to be easy.

But Col. Jeffrey Mintzlaff, chief of the Transportation Command's J-3 contingency division, which handles movements for the Central, European and Southern commands, is optimistic, even though he has said the Defense Department hasn't gone far enough. He has proposed that the command merge with the Defense Logistics Agency and get authority over the services. "If DoD really wants to transform its distribution processes, it will take more than collaboration," he wrote in a paper for the Naval War College in 2005.

Standing in his office outside the command's operations center two years later, reminded of the paper, he smiles. Lines of authority are still being worked out, he says, but the Transportation Command is being brought into decisions earlier and can make better business cases when telling the services how something should move. Where troops in the field, worried that supplies would never arrive, used to order four of something-"one for themselves, one [just in case], and two for Mom and Dad, we're now down to two."

But those numbers won't matter once the president calls the troops home. Fletcher, who oversees Mintzlaff's division and several others, says he has "a strong personal desire in Iraq...it's the hope of all America to provide freedom for the people there." But, he adds, "We'll execute whatever hand we're dealt to do the job we have to do."—With additional reporting by Doug Bartholomew

Next Page: U.S. Central Command Base Case

Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.

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