No sector of government wants to deal with sequestration, but the intelligence community could make a compelling case for why it’s in the worst position of all. On top of the usual work of trying to stay ahead of events in North Korea, Iran and Syria, the community is trying to figure out how to roll out a massive information technology modernization project.
NRO's Jill Singer: Critical tests underway for ICITE computing tech. Credit: Government Executive and INSA.
The Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise initiative is supposed to reduce the community’s annual IT spending by 20 percent by 2018. The savings would come gradually, a CIA official said, because the new community-wide operating system would be run in parallel with existing networks until managers gained enough confidence to unplug the old ones.
If the plan works, agencies would no longer operate their own unique operating systems for top secret work. That change plus a shift toward cloud computing and adoption of apps are supposed to offset reductions to the $80 billion annual intelligence budget.
It sounds good, but a year and half into the work, the community has yet to decide on an overarching acquisition strategy for ICITE. The community also is showing signs of waffling on its promise to have an early version of the system running at DIA and NGA by the end of March.
Anxieties about ICITE (pronounced eyesight) and sequestration were palpable today at a seminar produced by the Nextgov news site and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
Big data firms and software providers are anxious to win new work in a tightening budget. Intelligence workers would gain all sorts of 21st Century tools, like inter-agency instant messaging and an online applications mall filled with data crunching apps supplied by the various intelligence agencies. This vision is going to require solving some big problems. One is getting face time with acquisition staffs to work out how ICITE would be implemented.
“If you all are working with the acquisition workforce across the intelligence community, you know that they are overtaxed, that they are overworked,” said Jill Singer, NRO’s chief information officer. She helped conceive of ICITE with peers at other agencies. “Certainly at the NRO they are understaffed. So finding free time with them has been quite a challenge,” she said.
Gus Hunt, the CIA’s chief technology officer, said the threat of automatic budget cuts is soaking up staff time at his agency: “We’re spending an enormous amount of time planning for sequestration,” he said.
Paige Atkins, chair of an ICITE task force convened by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, said decisions about what to cut are being made by leaders outside of the acquisition staffs. But she said sequestration could slow the rollout of ICITE. The "biggest impact would probably be to stretch out the schedule(s) -- particularly for FOC versus IOC," she said by email, referring to ICITE's initial operating capability and full operating capability.
Singer was pressed about the March date for ICITE’s initial operating capability, defined as having the common desktop environment ready at NGA and DIA, with NSA providing a cloud computing service.
“Some independent testing (is) going on right now, and it will depend on how successful that is. If they run into any show stoppers, then they’ll step back. But certainly I believe the goal is spring of calendar year 13,” she said.
Then there is the question of the acquisition strategy. The intelligence community was able to do the initial ICITE work through “creative” financing, Singer told Deep Dive after the seminar.
A long-term plan would be needed to roll out the system across the community’s 16 agencies and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Only the basic principle has been agreed upon: ICITE won’t be a program of record or a traditional acquisition. CIA, DIA, NGA and NSA have been assigned specific roles under ICITE, and they are funding their work out of their own budgets. NGA and DIA are creating the common desktop. CIA and NSA are collaborating to shift collection troves out of traditional data centers and into private cloud servers. In ICITE parlance, the agencies are “service providers” for intelligence staffs across the community, who are their customers. The agencies are supposed to recoup their ICITE investments from their customers in some fashion but no one knows exactly how that would be managed or implemented.
Industry officials are curious too: “Understanding that the service providers will be the ones that do the acquiring, how will you get them to fund what you want, and how will you keep them on track, and how will you prevent those service providers from not recreating today’s stovepipes?” CSC’s Joe Mazzafro asked.
Singer said performance metrics would be established for periodic assessments, perhaps quarterly, and that ICITE managers are working with chief financial officers across the community “to figure out what the right cost recovery models will be for the various services.”
A fall back could be a more traditional acquisition: “There is always an option inside the intelligence community to dispense with too much administrative burden and have it be appropriated,” Singer said.