GAO points out challenges of building global info grid

When the planned Global Information Grid is up and running by about 2010, it will put mobile as well as fixed military assets online at up to 10 Gbps.

The Defense Department's Global Information Grid'a massive IT infrastructure project'lacks an investment and oversight strategy. Plus, the department faces significant management, operational and technical challenges to pull it off, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The GIG would bring thousands of DOD information and business systems, weapons, sensors, services and applications online at high speed. It is expected to cost the department $21 billion to build through 2010.

The report found that the most critical challenge for the Defense Department was in making the grid a reality.

'While DOD has taken steps to define its vision and objectives for the GIG on paper and in policy, it is not fully known how DOD will meet these objectives, particularly with respect to setting investment priorities, providing management attention and oversight, transforming operations and advancing technologies,' said Robert E. Levin, GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management, in the report.

GAO found that the Defense Department had not determined how much information to post on the network or where and how it should be used. Auditors also said Defense officials must be able to convince data owners that the network is secure enough to post and share information.

DOD is working to correct some of the issues brought out in the report. For example, the department is determining whether to make unlimited amounts of data available through the GIG, including unprocessed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data, without first parsing it through some level of analysis. That's where Robert Lentz, director of information assurance at the DOD, comes in.

Lentz's staff and employees of the National Security Agency are responsible for building an end-to-end information assurance architecture that will be integrated into the grid.

Lentz has submitted to Defense officials the first IA architecture, which he said will be fully vetted by early fall. 'This is the IA component of the GIG,' Lentz explained. 'This is not a standalone architecture.'

He said the architecture, which will be rolled out in three increments through 2016, involves 10 different documents totaling about 2,000 pages.

Levin wrote in the GAO report that another challenge DOD has not considered is how officials will persuade users to rely on IT applications developed by the Defense Information Systems Agency.

DISA is the lead on developing a series of core enterprise services to run on the GIG.

'We have reported in the past that the military services have regularly bypassed [DISA], preferring instead to procure their own telecommunications networks and commercial satellites bandwidth services because they were dissatisfied with the level of service provided by the agency as well as the cost and length of time it took to procure these services centrally,' he wrote.

DISA officials could not be reached for comment.

Defense officials agreed that the challenges outlined by GAO are critical ones facing the development of the global grid. The department noted in the report that it is dealing with many of the issues.

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