The Justice Department’s (DoJ) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) component expects to complete a major cloud-based system overhaul over the next year, according to DEA Chief Information Officer (CIO) Nick Ward.

Ward’s top priority since he joined the DEA at the end of last year is building one platform that will house all the agency’s data in a secure, common place. He talked about that project – dubbed Mission OS – at a September 14 event organized by Federal News Network.

The CIO explained that DEA has a lot of customized, standalone applications, where the data is siloed. The Mision OS project aims to build a system where all the applications can live and interact as one.

“DEA had been very progressive in the past but some of those systems have started to show their age,” Ward said. “My focus now,” he continued, “is to build a major data platform” that pulls together all the functions and capabilities that will strengthen the agency’s mission.

Embracing a commercial perspective is front and center in Ward’s plans.

“These applications should be products,” he said. “Just like a commercial company always has to be developing on their application to keep it current – to keep it modern. That’s the direction that we’re moving into, and we’re not going to try to just lift and shift all of our applications.”

“We’re really rebuilding this with that mindset, and we’re going cloud-first for that,” the CIO said.

Ward is a true advocate for collaboration in order to present DEA agents and their customers with top-tier services. He said he has been working closely with other agencies that make up DoJ, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to gain inspiration on how they built their data platforms.

Ward said DEA won’t do it exactly the same way, because each agency has different missions, but he did say that learning from other Federal agencies’ efforts helps the DEA expedite its own process.

One idea the CIO likes for all DoJ component agencies is to share a common code repository.

“Even in situations where we have shareable code, we’ve had conversations about how we can open up our code repositories to each other in situations that make sense to be able to speed up both of our efforts,” Ward said. “You give me your code; I’ll give you mine. Let’s make this a true open source within the Federal government.”

Ward said he wants his team to have the base system for Mission OS viable for usage within a year.

“[We are] fully acknowledging that’s not the end of the road. These are forever projects. We’re always going to need case management; it is always going to need to be modernized and have new capabilities so we can stay in the leading edge,” Ward said.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.