DoD IT Answering Department’s Call for Culture Change

Pentagon Military Defense DoD

With the Department of Defense setting culture change as a priority, DoD IT is making efforts to shed some of the department’s traditional risk-averse mindset and adopt new technologies and processes faster, said Nancy Norton, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the commander of the Joint Force Headquarters Department of Defense Information Network (JFHQ–DODIN) on Thursday.

“Cyberspace is a battlefield, an IT problem, and a cultural problem,” said Norton during an event hosted by Fifth Domain. Norton cited the National Defense Strategy as a major driver for cultural change, as well as the DoD Cyber Strategy and the National Cyber Strategy. “Based on that direction, we must pursue a fundamental change in culture, and how we think, prioritize, and make decisions,” she said.

“Without question, every mission of the DoD relies on the DODIN. This critical factor is fundamental to the shift we’ve seen in modern warfare. It requires, deep cultural changes in how DoD uses the availability of our information technology, protects the integrity of information, interfaces with partners and allies, and engages adversaries,” said Norton.

Unfortunately for military personnel, that might mean less Netflix.

“Many still think that the network can be used as a toy to play games, as an entertainment device to watch movies or anything else that they want to watch, a tool for convenience, and a warfighting domain,” said Norton. “Humans are prone to error, and we have not changed the culture sufficiently to keep people from doing dumb things on the DoD networks.”

That change extends to the acquisition side, something Norton is well acquainted with in her role at DISA and a push coming from the top of the Pentagon

Norton cited a quote from Secretary of Defense James Mattis from earlier this week at the Institute for Peace: “DoD has been focused on being thorough and minimizing risk by not taking chances on projects and tech, and that is not cutting it anymore,” said Mattis.

“We need to get out of the bureaucratic red tape that Secretary Mattis talked about in our acquisition processes and strategies, and start to do more and more agile development … because we tend to fall into the trap of very standard acquisition processes that take far too long to be able to outpace the adversary,” said Norton.

Norton made it clear that the cultural change is not for the sake of change.

“Why is a cultural change required? It’s because of the threat. The scope, the scale, the complexity, and the pace of adversary activity in cyberspace continues to increase,” said Norton. To combat that threat, “we must operate the DODIN with a warfighting mindset, to ensure our data and our ability to move it remains resilient to adversary activities, in cyberspace and the other warfighting domains.”

“In the Marine Corps, they say that every Marine is a rifleman. I say that everyone in the DoD is a cyber warrior. From senior leaders to each and every user across the DODIN, their actions matter, and can cause failure,” Norton added.

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