DoD reshuffles panel tasked with speedy adoption of cloud computing

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March 7, 2018

The panel of senior leaders the Defense Department appointed to help speed up its adoption of cloud computing is undergoing notable changes to its membership less than four months after it was first created.

The Cloud Executive Steering Group (CESG) will grow from five voting members to seven, but will no longer be led by Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, according to a memo signed by deputy Defense secretary Patrick Shanahan last Thursday. Lord had been the chairwoman of the board since its inception on Sept. 13.

Going forward, Lord’s AT&L organization will “support all efforts of the CESG,” but neither she nor any of her staff will be voting members of the panel.

Its new chairman will be Jay Gibson, the department’s deputy chief management officer (and who’s also been tapped to become its first chief management officer). Bob Daigle, DoD’s director of cost assessment and program evaluation will also join the panel.

Shanahan also appeared to be boosting the role of the DoD chief information officer in the cloud transition project. Essye Miller, the acting CIO, will now be a member of the steering group. Previously, the CIO’s office had no official representation on the panel, although John Bergin, the office’s business technology officer had been designated an “advisor.”

Meanwhile, Will Roper, the director of DoD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), Raj Shah, managing partner of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, Chris Lynch, director of the Defense Digital Service (DDS) and Joshua Marcuse, executive director of the Defense Innovation Board, will continue to serve as members.

Shanahan gave no details on his reasons for altering the panel’s composition and leadership, writing only that the CESG “has made great progress towards making commercial cloud services available to the department” and that the changes were deemed necessary because the project is approaching the “critical acquisition phase.”

The deputy secretary’s September memo establishing the group had tasked it with leading a two-phase plan to speed up DoD’s transition to commercial cloud services, starting with a full-and-open procurement for a “modem enterprise cloud services solution.” Lynch’s DDS will continue to lead that effort.

But the new directive specifically gives the Strategic Capabilities Office the lead for phase two: the selection of existing DoD systems as the first candidates to migrate to whatever cloud offering the CESG procures. Capt. David McAllister, a SCO official, will be the point person. Those transitions should, “to the maximum extent possible, operationalize the mission using the security, software, and machine learning capabilities that cloud technology provides,” Shanahan wrote.

Since its inception, the steering group has revealed little about its activities or its plans to vendors or to the public. Indeed, in a December memo first reported by Bloomberg News, Lord had admonished senior Pentagon officials that it was “imperative” not to talk about the cloud adoption project with anyone outside the department.

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She told a Dec. 7 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that DoD was still in the process of deciding how to structure its cloud acquisition, but that it wanted the end product to be able to serve warfighters in tactical environments.

“What we’re looking at is mission focus here, not back room business systems and it’s all about getting that computing capability out to the edge,” she said. “We want our war fighting systems to be able to do machine learning, to have artificial intelligence and until we have all of our data in just a few places, it’s going to be very hard to do that.”

The only detailed public document the CESG has released about its plans, an Oct. 30 request for information, garnered 52 responses from industry. In it, the group said it wanted the cloud solution it procures to include infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service offerings that can operate both in and outside of the continental United States, and be able to handle information at all security levels, including top secret. It plans deliver those services to DoD users via a firm, fixed price indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contract.

Currently, DoD’s cloud security rules do not provide a way for commercial cloud vendors to certify their systems as secure enough for top secret information, and only one company – Amazon Web Services – has gained provisional authorization to operate at “impact level 6,” DoD’s designation for secret-level systems. Just last week, U.S. Transportation Command issued a justification for a sole source contract to AWS, saying the firm was the only one capable of handling its secret data.

However, those security processes are subject to change in pursuit of Shanahan’s directives toward a rapid cloud transition.

“DoD is prepared to pursue the revision of existing policies and federal regulations remove barriers to success,” CESG officials wrote in the RFI. “Revisions are not guaranteed and will require the balancing of many factors, including security and reliability.”

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