INTERVIEW: John P. Stenbit, Defense's IT chief

DOD needs a network-centric view


  • Family: Married for 35 years to
    Albertine Heederik of the Netherlands; two children and four grandchildren

  • Hobbies: Reading, flyfishing and organized walks

  • Recent books read: The Clash of Civilizations
    by Samuel Huntington; The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell; From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present by Jaques Barzun

  • Favorite Web sites: and

  • Car currently driven: BMW

  • John P. Stenbit

    President Bush appointed John P. Stenbit to the position of assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence on Aug. 7. He had worked for military and civilian organizations in the telecommunications and command and control fields for more than 30 years.

    Stenbit spent most of his career at TRW Inc., joining the company in 1968 and retiring as an executive vice president in May.

    He served as chairman of the Science and Technology Advisory Panel to the director of the CIA and later chaired the Research, Engineering and Development Advisory Committee for the Federal Aviation Administration. He also was on the Defense Science Board, Navy Studies Board and National Research Council manufacturing board.

    Stenbit's previous service in the Defense Department was from 1973 to 1977. He spent two years as principal deputy director of telecommunications and command and control systems. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

    GCN staff writer Dawn S. Onley interviewed Stenbit by telephone.

    GCN: What is the role of IT security in the current Defense Department climate and in the future?

    STENBIT: It's always been a high priority. It's heightened now.

    This is one area the DOD has been very serious about for quite awhile, and we are making some progress. It's a very difficult process and hard to ensure success. A lot of things have changed since Sept. 11. [The need for] information assurance is probably one thing that hasn't changed.

    GCN: R&D tends to get cut when the economy is bad. Do you think that's an acceptable corner to cut to maintain America's warfighting superiority?

    STENBIT: I'm not sure I agree with your premise. There's a tendency, when things get tight, for some people to forget about funding the future. I don't believe everyone does that.

    I do believe successful organizations keep their eyes on the future no matter what.

    The Quadrennial Defense Review is exactly about how important it is to go through the transformation into the future military without worrying about the past. Nobody ever gets as much money as they want.

    GCN: What are the top IT initiatives at DOD this year?

    STENBIT: The big one is network-centric operations. We need to go to a network-oriented view of doing business, whether it's back-office personnel functions or command and control functions.

    We're there partially, but we're not there all the way. We need to eliminate time and geography from the problem.

    The other one is how do we enable people dependent on radios as opposed to fixed locations where fiber can be used? How do we get them involved?

    The third would be information assurance. We've got to make sure our information is protected and gets to the right person at the right time. And we've got to make sure the [enemy's information] doesn't.

    GCN: What are DOD's capabilities to defend against network attacks? Are we exploring technologies to wage this type of warfare?

    STENBIT: There is no static answer to that. There are dramatically different problems. It's a very dynamic issue.

    You can never be sure you are as good as you think you are. If you ever start to get complacent you are in real trouble. I believe we are moving on a broad front.

    GCN: How will Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Quadrennial Defense Review affect the IT direction of DOD?

    STENBIT: I thought it was right on point. We are very supportive. We need to get on with transformation and to get on with adding to the types of information we have available. I'm calling for alternative sensor technology.

    GCN: What IT capabilities were lost as a result of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon?

    STENBIT: The job titles of several of the people were IT. They were the heart and soul of all of this. It's very tragic. They had a unique capability that's highly in demand in our society.

    The Navy was up and running with alternative computers in their building within days, which is the advantage of IT: We can reconstitute ourselves rather rapidly.

    GCN: What outsourcing initiatives is DOD considering for IT?

    STENBIT: While I have visibility and involvement on some of the larger contracted efforts like the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet project, the services generally buy what they need. For example, the Air Force had to do some contracting when they came up short about 19,000 IT technicians.

    GCN: What is DOD doing to recruit and retain IT workers?

    STENBIT: You would really have to speak to the individual services. Each of them works their accession and re-enlistment bonus programs to balance their forces. I know all of them are targeting IT specialists in their recruiting and retention efforts.

    The Navy established a program within the Fleet Support Officer Community for officers to specialize in a career as an information professional.

    For enlisted sailors, the service combined ratings for radiomen and data processing workers into the information systems technician track.

    The general trend is that we're having a tough time retaining programmers and webmasters.

    GCN: How will DOD be affected by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Federal Communications Commission plan for spectrum allocation to expand third-generation wireless services?

    STENBIT: There's 15 MHz that would go to industry from [the] 1,755-MHz to 1,770-MHz [band] that we use to run precision guided munitions and satellites. It has major time implications to us if we lose it. But I don't believe there's any process under way that guarantees that this band will be selected.

    The decision on whether this 15 MHz can be allocated will have to wait on results of the viability assessment, to be completed by late spring of 2002.

    GCN: How important is the 1,755-MHz to 1,850-MHz band to Defense operations?

    STENBIT: The viability of the military frequency spectrum is critical to ensure that military communications systems operate as intended. The frequency spectrum is supposed to be transparent to the warfighters; they should focus on accomplishing their missions and not frequency interference.

    DOD's continuous protected operations in the 1,755-MHz to 1,850-MHz band are critical to ensuring mission success and preserving the lives of our warfighters and ultimately those of every one of our citizens.

    GCN: What is your opinion of the proposal by NTIA and FCC?

    STENBIT: We're gratified that we don't have to do it over the entire band. We're gratified that the other part is off the table. We recognize our responsibility to participate in the process. But we're still impacted.

    There's an asymmetry in this business. The commercial guys are making financial investment decisions. They are looking at multiple ways to make money. For us, if we can't guide airplanes and they don't fly right and they crash, these are serious life-threatening issues.

    We are also going to have to work out our estimates of additional spectrum, which may be required by ourselves and other government organizations as the new requirements for homeland defense become more clear.

    There will obviously be requirements to better communicate between DOD elements and public safety and law enforcement agencies in the civilian sectors of the government.


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