What’s Next for Department of Defense Digital Modernization?

As the Trump Administration comes to a close, there is no better time than the present to reexamine the Department of Defense Digital Modernization Strategy and its potential sustainment beyond January 2021.

The Digital Modernization Strategy was released in July 2019 in order to, as then-Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist stated “[be the] cornerstone for advancing our digital environment to afford the Joint Force a competitive advantage in the modern battlespace.” Digital Modernization aims to implement the National Defense Strategy’s focus areas of strengthening partnerships, lethality, and reform through four key goals. These goals include: innovate for competitive advantage, optimize for efficiencies and improved capability, evolve cybersecurity for an agile and resilient defense posture, and finally to cultivate talent for a ready digital workforce. In short, this Strategy outlines a blueprint for modernizing the Department’s efforts in cloud, artificial intelligence, command control and communications, and cybersecurity.

The Department has released substrategies (or strategy supplements) in each of these areas and plans are underway to release a companion strategy specifically on IT reform. In addition, this past October the Department released its Data Strategy under the umbrella of the larger Digital Modernization Strategy. With its goals of making data visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable, and secure, data is the glue that binds together each of the other elements of Digital Modernization. There are also clear linkages between Digital Modernization – specifically the Data Strategy – and another huge effort underway at the Department: Joint All Doman Command and Control (JADC2).       

Will the Digital Modernization Strategy survive the Trump Administration? Language contained in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act seems to indicate that this Strategy is here to stay, at least in the short term. Section 836 calls for the digital modernization of analytical and decision support processes for managing acquisition programs. Section 1735 directs the Secretary to integrate aspects of user activity monitoring, endpoint cybersecurity, and the collection of metadata to enable mutual support and information sharing. Finally, although not technically part of the Authorization bill, the accompanying Senate Armed Services Committee Report directs the Secretary to sponsor a demonstration of commercial technologies and techniques for enabling interoperability among cybersecurity systems and tools and for machine-to-machine communications and automated workflow orchestration. Each of these requirements are closely aligned with the Digital Modernization Strategy.

It’s also important to consider that the Department’s Chief Information Officer is required to certify to the Secretary of Defense that each year’s cybersecurity budget request aligns with its modernization goals. We should have a better idea on the next steps for the Digital Modernization Strategy with the Biden Administration’s first budget request submission to Congress early next year. The Department should consider continuing to build upon the successes achieved under the current Administration.  

Tim Frank
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Tim Frank

Tim Frank is the Director, Defense Federal Government Affairs, bringing over a decade of experience at the intersection of the Defense Department, Congress, and Industry. Prior to joining Splunk, Tim worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer, focused on information management, legislative, public, and international affairs. During the Obama Administration, he served as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs, focusing on information technology and cybersecurity issues. Tim holds a JD from Michigan State University College of Law and a BA in Political Science from Grand Valley State University.

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