DoD Digital Modernization Strategy

Where is the Department of Defense (DoD) investing in information technology? What are the major lines of effort, how will priorities be decided, and who will have a role? Answers to these questions drive decisions on close to $50 billion in annual DoD IT spending, and both Congress and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are asking for better information about IT investments. DoD leadership also requires a more consistent and coordinated IT strategy, an updated strategic plan, and greater transparency.

To address these needs, the DoD Chief Information Officer (CIO) released the DoD Digital Modernization Strategy (DMS) on June 5, 2019. While DMS lays out strategy, it also serves “double duty” as the Information Resources Management Strategic Plan for FY19-FY23. In one document, then, we have the roadmap for future IT procurement decisions. We can use this document to help predict how processes will change, how budgets may be influenced, and which organizations and people will play a role.

The DMS cites four overall CIO priorities for DoD: Cloud; Artificial Intelligence (AI); Command, Control and Communications (C3); and Cybersecurity. DoD CIO Deasy spoke to these priorities at an Air Force IT Day conference on December 12th, referring to an improved network that strengthens command, control, and communication, uses cloud computing and artificial intelligence, and is wrapped in robust cybersecurity. Congress also recognizes the merits of DMS priorities. The FY20 National Defense Authorization Act, which was cleared this week for the President’s signature, reinforces DMS priorities by including provisions on cloud services (Sec. 1755), enterprise-wide systems and services (Sec. 839), and the digital and cyber workforce (Sec. 230).

Two themes running throughout the DMS are significant for companies doing business with any DoD entity, whether a Service, installation, Combatant Command, or supporting entities (the “Fourth Estate”), such as DISA, DLA, DODEA or NSA.

First, expect increased oversight by the CIO and more transparency regarding IT investments. DoD CIO review of IT budgets is now mandated under the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act. Congress directed that the Services and DoD components submit their IT budget requests to the CIO during the budget formulation process (not “after the fact”) and that the CIO directly certify to the SECDEF whether each entity’s budget request is adequate to meet IT requirements. The formal certification is due each January for the upcoming budget request. For the FY21 budget request to Congress, the DoD CIO must complete the review and certify adequacy to the SECDEF by January 31, 2020, followed by a certification to Congress in March.

Second, the move to enterprise-wide solutions in DoD is happening in every sector, and the pace is aggressive. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Norquist explained, the DMS directs “an enterprise view of the future where more common foundational technology is delivered across the DoD components.” In multiple budget and policy documents, including the DMS, enterprise solutions are touted as more efficient, cost saving, and meeting mission requirements. The DMS notes, and we would emphasize, DoD leadership intends to “shift the Department from an ‘opt-in’ approach to enterprise services.The clear direction is that enterprise-wide services will be the forced default unless a component is approved to opt out. This will lead to significant changes for DoD components in buying IT solutions, from how proposals are evaluated to who makes the decision to buy. We foresee incredible opportunities for companies poised to offer enterprise-wide solutions, whether for equipment or services. However, the transition to enterprise-level buys may present a challenge, since the predictability of selling tailored products to a single Service or component, even for incumbents with excellent performance history, could be impacted.


The DMS is organized around four overarching goals, with several objectives under each goal. Chart I displays the goals and associated objectives; a description of goals and selected objectives follows.

Goal 1: Innovate for Competitive Advantage: technological innovation for readiness. Speed of technology adoption, adaptability, full use of AI capabilities, and collaboration with partners are the hallmarks of this goal. Objectives include:
Adopt enterprise-wide use of AI;
Deliver a DoD Enterprise Cloud Environment;
Modernize Command, Control, Communications and Computer (C4);
Improve bandwidth and network resiliency;
Reduce the number of networking environments and move to a single service provider; and
Enhance mobile user information sharing, including streamlined purchasing, access to multiple classification levels, and 5G adoption.

Goal 2: Optimize for Efficiencies and Improved Capability: shift to enterprise-wide operations for the entirety of the Department. This affects what DoD will buy and how they will buy it, as well as how industry best practices and technologies are evaluated. Significant objectives are:
Shift to an Enterprise-wide model from Component-centric;
Optimize DoD data centers. Metrics reported to OMB imply that DoD intends to significantly reduce the number of data centers;
Modernize Voice and Video Capabilities, updating from outdated systems such as non-IP transport video technology;
Improve IT Category Management, including avoiding duplication and leveraging economies of scale; and
Bring new technology into DoD faster, streamlining the tech approval process.

Goal 3: Evolve Cybersecurity for an Agile and Resilient Defense Posture: “every network, system, application and enterprise service must be secure by design and…throughout the acquisition lifecycle.” Objectives for this goal include:
Achieve the DoD Cybersecurity Reference Architecture (CSRA) goals and directives;
Adopt enterprise credentialing; and
Protect DoD information residing in Defense Industrial Base unclassified networks and systems.

Goal 4: Cultivate Talent for Digital Ready Workforce: DoD is one of the three largest markets for employees with digital skills, and the capability is crucial to meet military readiness requirements.

To keep the workforce capable and ready, objectives are:
Manage and develop the civilian cyber workforce proactively:
Strengthen the IT acquisition workforce; and
Improve recruitment, retention and development, including use of the Cyber Excepted Service.

We expect to see evidence of the DoD DMS goals in the President’s FY21 Budget. Since the strategy’s centerpiece is to “accelerate transition” to enterprise-level approaches for services and products, the FY21 DoD budget request will likely include major initiatives supporting large scale foundational systems or services, projections of expected cost savings from those enterprise solutions, and fewer customized, single-component or boutique solutions. We will also be watching for DoD CIO guidance documents, standard setting activity, and evidence of major changes to the IT acquisition processes throughout DoD.

FBIQ welcomes Maureen Holohan as a guest contributor. Maureen served as Deputy Staff Director for the House Appropriations Committee from 2017 to 2018. She also led the staff of the House MilCon/VA Subcommittee from 2015 to 2017 and worked for the Defense Subcommittee on intelligence matters from 2013 to 2015. Prior to joining the Appropriations Committee in 2001, Maureen was a policy and budget analyst at the FDA.