Is Navy "Information Management" Becoming an Oxymoron?

By Lieutenant Commander Robert L. Buchanan, U.S. Naval Reserve, and Lieutenant Commander Sean Donohoe, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)

The old adage, "Too many cooks spoil the broth," describes the Navy's IM/IT posture today. The Navy's information-related commands and dozens of other second echelon commands (NavAir, NavSea, NavSup) all follow Navy tradition by "moving off smartly" in whatever directions they believe are right for them. In fact, all of them are doing some outstanding IM and IT work. But the amount of duplication is astounding. This, of course, is not all bad—others might benefit occasionally from their individual, new discoveries. But this kind of benefit comes at a high cost. Such efforts as the base-level information infrastructure, base communications office concept, the information-technology standards guide, and the recently released Navy basic procurement agreements are all great individual efforts, but where is the single driving force and vision? Every day, in several periodicals, you will find numerous people discussing where the Navy is going with IM/IT in addition to Dr. Langston: Dr. Ann Miller, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Command, Control, Computers, Communications, and Intelligence (C 4 I), Electronic Warfare, and Space; Arthur Money, Senior Civilian Official for Office of the Assistant Secrretary of the Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C 3 I); Dan Porter, the Navy Chief Information Officer; Vice Admiral Robert Natter, Director, Space, Information Warfare, Command and Control; Rear Admiral John Gauss, Commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command; Rear Admiral Robert Nutwell, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Space Systems; and Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, President of the Naval War College. Who is in charge?

Second, another more recent change to the Navy's IM structure has been the addition of information warfare (IW). The Navy chose to place the executive agency for IW with its signals intelligence organization—the Commander, Naval Security Group Command (ComNavSecGru). ComNavSecGru in turn created the Naval Information Warfare Activity and also spawned the Fleet Information Warfare Center. Information warfare in the Navy has been split into segments whose acronyms seem to change weekly. Not only are IO, IW, and information assurance (IA) not organizationally managed by a single entity, but none of these is bound with the other Navy IM players, nor is the Navy's information security organization associated with its IW organization. Splitting information management functions among numerous players is occurring throughout Navy—to no one's benefit.

Private industry coined the term sub-optimization to explain how the sum of the products of all these individual efforts will be less than the expected whole. Not only does the Navy have enough IM/IT organizations and acronyms to choke a horse, but the dozens of organizations, functional area managers, and leaders—and the hundreds of people overseeing and working on these efforts (each with their own agenda)—do not have a common goal. They all try to meet the needs of the warfighter—but only according to their own definitions. Are they actually doing what the Navy needs, and in the most efficient manner? Information management and information technology are costly, complex, and rapidly changing arenas—yet the Navy allows almost everyone to play their own games. Where is the Navy's single IM/IT voice—one that understands the Navy's complexity and the environment in which it operates, and remains focused on IM/IT/IW/IA—and not on acquisition or all of C 4 I? Last year it appeared the Navy finally had agreed upon a single Chief Information Officer (Dr. Ann Miller). But even that was short-lived (Dan Porter took her place soon afterward), and already the Navy is splitting the function into thirds—the optimal Chief Information Officer should have both warfighting and extensive IT industry experience. The Navy also has no idea how many computers or networks it has, how much it really pays for IM and IT, or how many people are involved.

The Numbers

Information in the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Navy is big business. Estimates of DoD spending on IT, IM, and IW are approximately $30 billion per year. (This was approximately one-eighth of the entire DoD budget of $243 billion for FY96.) For example, DoD spent more than $9 billion on IT projects in FY96, more than $2 billion for information warfare, $6.7 billion for communications technologies, $4.4 billion for command and control systems, and $2.4 billion for space-based command, control, and communications assets. With the dollars in just the DoD operations and maintenance budgets for IT in FY96 estimated at between $9 and $18 billion—information management, information technology, and information-related expenses for DoD may now total more than the Navy's entire FY97 Operations budget of $22.5 billion! Since then, the numbers have gone only up.

Unfortunately—and in spite of its costs—Navy information still is thought by many to be an expensive support function. This partially explains why key Navy information management activities fall under the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, instead of under its own functional/ warfare area.

The People Involved

Navy Personnel Command reports that the Navy has 11,408 radiomen, 2,840 data processors, and 1,407 communications technicians-operators. Most are involved in full-time, information-related fields. This figure does not count maintenance and repair technicians—nonmilitary personnel working in information-related fields. The Naval Post Graduate School turns out 138 graduates per year with degrees in Information Technology Management, and 82 graduates with degrees in Computer Science (but many end up working in unrelated fields). As of December 1995, Navy civilian employees in the GS-334 (Computer Specialist) series numbered 8,243; GS-1550 (Computer Scientists) numbered 1,595; and GS-390 and GS-391 (Telecommunications) numbered 939. These specialists' primary functions are to support information movement, storage, and manipulation—and currently this group represents only about 4% of the Navy's total force.

Realistically, thousands more Navy employees (e.g., network administrators, LAN operators and managers, and PC installers) work informally on information-related activities in every command, every day. It would appear logical that such a large number of employees, all working in the same functional area, would be directed by a single entity. No one knows exactly how many workers there are nor how much it costs for them to do their business. These "collateral" duties are not considered an information-related expense. The Navy should consider whether there are enough of the right kind of people, working for the right organization, to support such an important function in the future.

The expertise to run and maintain both the old and the new technology in the Navy's inventory is expensive, particularly when the Navy is losing many of its military and civilian experts to the private sector. This is happening because the private sector is better organized to constructively use the expertise; offering better corporate packages; using state-of-the-art technology; demanding a great need for their expertise; and providing the necessary training that the Navy commands are unwilling or unable to provide. Large numbers of the Navy's most senior civilian and military workers have taken, or are taking buyouts—while high grade ceilings preclude hiring the highly skilled workers needed to make best use of the technology. The Navy does not have a process for grooming its IM/IT employees for greater responsibilities. The Navy, in fact, wastes those employees it sends through the DoD Senior Executive Leadership Course.

The Navy's existing IM/IT talent is distributed widely and used unwisely, and still the Navy expects to reduce its active personnel strength by 34% between 1988 and 2001, its reserve personnel strength by 35%, and its civilian personnel strength by 39%. The Navy's civilian workforce dropped from 245,300 in FY95 to 208,000 by FY97. Yet the level of expertise needed to run highly sophisticated information, weapons, information-warfare, and networked systems is much higher than when all the Navy needed were "ditty boppers" to send Morse code. The combination of four-years-and-out for many in the military (after being trained in a high tech field, at substantial cost), and the significant downsizing of the Navy's civilian workforce are combining to create critical shortages of just the type of expertise needed to automate and to make efficient use of new IT. The Navy's inability to synthesize its IM- and IT-related personnel and fiscal resources will become more of a problem as its reliance on information grows. Nonetheless, the Navy finally is recognizing that information is as important as its weapons and platforms.

The Budget

Almost everyone agrees that continuing to spend money on new weapon systems and on information technology means personnel budgets must be cut. The DoD spent more than $9 billion just on IT in 1996. The Navy's 1996 IT budget alone was nearly $2.4 billion. This is not all that is being spent because no one is certain how much the Navy spends managing and moving its information each year—but all agree it is a substantial portion of the Navy's overall budget. The Navy argues that the problem is too large for one person or one organization to handle. Nevertheless, other federal agencies (for example—the Department of Transportation and Health and Human Services) have larger IT budgets than the Navy, yet they do not have the dozens of individual players that the Navy does.

The Organization

Within the Navy, the communications, computer, information assurance, information warfare, space and electronic warfare, cryptologic and cryptographic, sensors, Defense Message System, the Multi-Service Information Systems Security Initiative, and LAN/WAN/MAN areas are all involved in information creation, movement, storage, protection, and destruction. Yet each of these has its own functional organizational structure, chain of command, IM/IT/IO/IA procedures, managers, and workforce. Every commander has his or her own agenda and vision. Collectively, these inefficiencies equate to enormous duplication of effort and wasted dollars. The organizations performing these functions and duties continue to grow and span the breadth of the Navy. Nearly every organization in the Navy now deals with IM/IT/IO—and to a degree IA—with very little control.

Because of the numerous IM/IT fiefdoms, the Navy has little or no control over its own internal office automation efforts. Millions of "gray" dollars in operations and maintenance funds are being spent by untrained Navy employees on incompatible hardware and software that may not be of any use in the future, with little or no thought toward integration or the impact on other Navy projects.

The Culture

The Navy has done business a certain way since its inception. Rear Admiral James Davidson, formerly of the Navy Information System Management Center, said, "Our culture rewarded independence—but now we want to link these efforts." After years of TQL training, everyone knows it takes several years of hard work to change a corporate culture, but we cannot afford to wait that long. According to Dr. Marvin Langston, "The Navy is attempting to categorize information as business versus tactical, tactical versus strategic, administrative versus operational—when in reality—'information is information.’” To provide information to the warfighter- across the battlespace, information must be managed collectively by the Navy as a corporate asset and as the force multiplier it has become. Complex networks using complex equipment, managed by complex decentralized organizations, are not what is needed in the future. What is needed is a single Navy information management vision of easy to use, secure, transparent networks, with centralized network management and control available to all Navy users, and provided and operated by true IM/IT knowledge workers. The problem remains: How do you change the culture, the management, the processes, the budget, the technology, and the training all at once in a climate of budget and personnel reductions and decreased investment dollars?


Why should the Navy change? Because it must. What the Navy is doing was fine last year—but the world now is vastly different. The Navy is taking its normal incremental steps (e.g., ten-year developmental cycles) to keep abreast of leaps in the information world, and although it is applying business sense in some specific areas, these are limited. The Navy must find out how much it spends and how many people are involved in its information fields. It no longer can afford to have numerous and various players each doing what they deem necessary and appropriate, with no lead dog pulling the sled.

Will Navy ships stop sailing because of these shortcomings, or will sailors not be fed at their next mealtime because of it? No. But as the cost of managing information becomes an increasingly larger slice of the budget pie, and as more automated processes replace more and costlier personnel—IM, IT, IO, and IA become increasingly critical to the success of the Navy's mission. It is imperative that Navy managers use vision and foresight in managing corporate information to ensure the mission's success. Navy IM/IT/IO/IA has undergone a great deal of patchwork over the years. Perhaps it is time to buy a new quilt.

The following list contains key recommendations. The "how" of pulling them all together requires a single vision-from a single driver and voice:

  • The Navy should not merge Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and Computer and Telecommunications Command.
  • The Navy's Chief Information Officer should be a separate Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and should be an information management/technology professional.
  • Combine all IM/IT/IO/IA planning, budgeting, and doctrine under the Navy's Chief Information Officer.
  • The Navy should establish new officer designator and enlisted classification, and create a career field of both military and civilian IM/IT/IO/IA professionals.
  • Separate IM/IT/IO from command and control. It can and does support command and control, but it also supports everything else.
  • The Navy should create its own worldwide intranet (NWI). Connect all Department of the Navy information to the NWI via a data warehouse, making data available to all users.
  • The cadre of IM/IT/IO/IA knowledge workers (military and civilian) should be made available to all via the NWI.
  • The Navy should put computers and communications back into NCTC.

Commander Buchanan is the executive officer of Naval Beach Group 2, Detachment 206. Commander Donohoe is a communications analyst with TRW Inc., Systems and Information Technology Group.



Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Mon, 2016-10-03

You are cordially invited to: Maintaining Maritime Superiority A discussion with Admiral John M. Richardson, USNChief of Naval...

2016 Coast Guard Academy Conference

US Coast Guard Academy

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

View All

From the Press

Guest Lecturer & Book Signing

Sun, 2016-10-02

8 Bells Lecture at the Seamen's Church Institute

Wed, 2016-10-05

James Goldrick

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership