With Defense Enclave Services, DISA hopes to bring together all the fourth estate under one architecture.

ALBUQUERQUE: JEDI is no longer the be-all and end-all of Pentagon IT and its so-called Fourth Estate.

To streamline the Pentagon’s network infrastructure of its non-service-specific agencies, the Defense Information Systems Agency is launching a massive, single vendor, $11.7 billion program. The JEDI-sized contract will be open architecture, which experts say facilitates a whole ecosystem of contractors once in place.

The Defense Enclave Services, or DES, seeks to tie the disparate systems of everything from the POW/MIA Accounting Agency to DARPA to a single network, managed by DISA. The consolidation of everything into one platform is also intended as a thorough upgrade.

This is no small reach, either. In prepared remarks, Susan Taylor Beury, acquisition analyst assigned to the Defense Enclave Services procurement, noted that “these five defense agencies and field activities represent approximately 20,000 users, 81 global sites and an estimated 40,000 end points.”

Working within a shared network infrastructure should, in theory, reduce a lot of redundancy in the various Fourth Estate agencies, which could be integral to slowing the rise of costs. In 2018, the Fourth Estate accounted for 18 percent of the Pentagon’s total budget, up from just 7 percent in 1990.

“The goal of this effort is to modernize the DoD IT architecture, reduce costs, improve business practices, and mitigate operational and cyber risks,” said Col. Chris Autrey, program manager for the DES Program, according to prepared remarks for an industry day event.

Key to wrangling the budget and staying up to date with the latest technology is the requirement that DES be built on open network architecture.

“Open architectures encourage entry into subsequent competitions for additional applications and for maintenance activities,” James Hasik, a senior research fellow at the Center for Government Contracting in the School of Business at George Mason University, says. “That tends to lower effective prices paid by the government.”

The open architecture nature of the DES contract also likely means that, instead of locking small players out, it gives them a platform on which to build in the future. Open architectures help create ecosystems of software and tools, which would align the Fourth Estate with other Pentagon initiatives to adapt quickly and stay modern.

Transforming the network architecture for the nearly 30 components of the Fourth Estate is a monumental task, and so it will be done in stages.

It will start with just five agencies: Defense Media Activity, Defense Technical Information Center, Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, and Defense Microelectronics Activity.

Bringing all of the disparate parts of the Fourth Estate — everything from the agency responsible for press release pictures to the Missile Defense Agency — into one architecture also means that it’s almost certain to become a singular attack point for espionage and enemies.

Of those agencies, POW/MIA and DTIC are the least at risk of malicious cyber intrusion, suggests Jason Healey, an expert in cybersecurity at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. Defense Media and Microelectronics both fall under a more medium risk category.

Because DISA is responsible for the Defense Enclave Services, it is essential for the agency to include itself from the start. Starting off with lower risk targets means DISA can focus on the contract on security to a level DISA is comfortable with, and bring other, more-sensitive parts of the Fourth Estate on board later.

Trickier than managing the risk of attack or espionage may be coordinating all the agencies to move to a single, shared infrastructure mean abandoning the more specialized services presently in use.

“However, unless there is truly one ring to rule them all for everything all the defense agencies need to do, DISA is unlikely to bring everyone up to the same level of success,” says Hasik. “Imposing a common solution on agencies that don’t want that and can’t use that could be painful.”