Big Data Posing Big Challenge for Pentagon
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The Fiscal Times
May 12, 2014

The Pentagon is projected to boost spending on so-called big data programs in the coming years, despite the dark cloud of sequestration that’s looming on the horizon. A smooth ramp-up, however, may prove challenging, given recent high-level departures by IT officials at the Defense Department.

Data software and services accounted for about $670 million in defense spending last year. That figure is projected to climb to $880 million in 2018, according to Alex Rossino, principal research analyst at Deltek, a software consulting firm. The automatic budget cuts known as sequestration are scheduled to resume in October 2015 and continue into the next decade.

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“We think sequestration is going to continue to weigh heavily on all areas of spending,” Rossino said last week at a conference hosted by Gannett Government Media. “However, this is one of the areas where we see there will be a rise in spending within an overall declining budget,” he said, referring to data-program expenditures, which include storage costs, across all federal agencies.

He said government-wide data spending is likely to increase from $4.99 billion this year to $5.77 billion in 2018.

The Pentagon already lags behind civilian agencies when it comes to things like cloud computing, mainly because the military’s security needs prevent it from easily altering commercially available platforms. But other initiatives that don’t pertain to classified information, such as housing medical records for as many as 10 million patients, are already proving to be a daunting task, in part because some top IT officials recently left DOD.

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The Pentagon lost its chief information officer, Teri Takai, earlier this month, and a permanent replacement has yet to be named. Takai’s resignation follows two departures last year from DOD’s chief management office, which is involved with IT programs.

In addition, the agency’s growing data needs, IT systems are central to meeting a congressional mandate for all of the armed services to be auditable by 2017. So far, only the Marine Corps has passed an audit by the Pentagon’s office of inspector general.

Getting to that point requires more integrated data systems, though, and that means spending more procurement dollars, an unappealing prospect to many lawmakers who say the Pentagon’s track record for IT acquisition is abysmal.

“You are terrible at it, just terrible,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 30 that included testimony from Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for technology acquisition. “Your acquisition process has so many steps and it is not flexible and it is not nimble. By the time you get to the end of it, it is obsolete.”

Kendall acknowledged some of those shortcomings, also noting that a lack of personnel expertise is contributing to the problem. “I do not think we have enough qualified professional in business systems,” he said.

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A senior writer for The Fiscal Times based in Washington, D.C., Timothy Homan covers defense and national security matters. He previously worked as an economics and congressional reporter for Bloomberg News and covered international trade for Congressional Quarterly.