Pentagon's New CIO Faces A Tough Test

The Department of Defense's incoming IT leadership team, led by Teri Takai, will be greeted by organizational upheaval, cost cutting, and pressure from Congress.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

October 29, 2010

4 Min Read

Incoming Department of Defense CIO Teri Takai will step into an atmosphere of uncertainty when she starts her new job on Nov. 7. She'll have to leverage her experience managing the state of California's expansive IT operations and work closely with her new management team at the Pentagon if she's to get the DOD's IT people, processes, and projects all pointed in the right direction.

Takai announced on Oct. 25 that she was resigning as CIO of California -- a position she has held for the past three years -- to take the DOD job. She will begin as acting assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration (NII is largely a policy-setting shop), but that role and the organization itself will eventually be folded into other DOD groups. Takai is tasked with facilitating that change at the same time that she settles in to her day-to-day CIO duties.

The DOD was sorely in need of a new IT management team. The CIO position has been vacant for nearly 18 months, and long-time deputy CIO Dave Wennergren recently gave up that position to become assistant deputy chief management officer at Defense.

Fortunately, Takai will be joined by two top managers who are well-versed in the IT challenges the military faces. One day after announcing the appointment of Takai as the DOD's new CIO, Defense Secretary Robert Gates revealed that former Navy CIO Rob Carey will become DOD's new deputy CIO -- replacing Wennergren -- and acting DOD CIO Cheryl Roby will become Takai's chief of staff.

The Pentagon's newly appointed tech team is stepping into a pressure cooker. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., recently sent a stern letter to defense secretary Gates demanding more information on the business case behind the Pentagon's proposed changes, saying that the House Armed Services Committee was "deeply disappointed" by a lack of openness about the plans, and that any required legislation or funding wouldn't move forward without more information being provided to Congress.

Part of that problem is that the elimination of NII is tangled up with a controversial decision to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), which oversees joint training and develops operational capabilities that can be shared across military branches. That move has set off a political firestorm and prompted Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., to say that he'll block all DOD nominations that require Senate confirmation until he gets more information about the future of JFCOM staffing levels.

Welcome to Washington, Teri. According to the DoD, Takai will play a "leading role" in redefining the CIO position, while also phasing out NII by taking the functions it performs today and moving them into other organizations. That's a precarious balancing act: stripping away and delegating some IT decision-making while redefining, and even strengthening, the DOD CIO role.

Takai's tenure in California was also defined by organizational overhaul and change. As CIO, she introduced discipline and rigor into an IT shop that InformationWeek's Bob Evans once called "wildly disconnected and out-of-control" and "a monumental disaster."

Tackling that head on, Takai put the state on a positive path by implementing operational improvements (data center consolidation and project management, for example) and organizational changes (as California's first state-wide CIO, she consolidated policy-making authority while leaving business decisions to the agencies). She's also been a champion of improving the state's energy efficiency, IT security, and engaging the public in new ways.

No job really prepares a CIO for the scale of DOD's $32 billion IT budget, but California's IT operations, with a $4 billion budget and staff of 10,000, are bigger than most. That experience is part of the reason DOD officials think she's right for the job. "We believe Ms. Takai, having been CIO for the largest state in the country, has very relevant expertise to help define a way ahead for IT in the Department of Defense," says a DOD spokeswoman.

Takai will find that DOD, like California, is rife with IT fiefdoms, inefficiencies, and IT systems and processes in need of fixing. It's a place where the CIO's relevance has been in decline (due to a combination of "out of sight, out of mind" and a perception of the office as a toothless policy shop) and where cost and schedule overruns aren't uncommon.

Big questions loom large. How much authority will the new CIO have? How much influence will the CIO have over how DOD spends its IT budget? What will the new IT organizational structure look like? How will the new organization interface with Cyber Command and the DoD's acquisition arm? And how will it be an improvement over NII?

Working in Takai's favor is the fact that DOD leadership is receptive to doing things differently. Secretary Gates, deputy secretary William Lynn, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff James Cartwright, and under secretary for acquisition Ash Carter seem committed to reform. In fact, DoD has indicated that the new CIO will report directly to the secretary.

The Pentagon is ripe for change in its IT operations -- and it's about to get it.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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