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December 20, 2014

DIA Tries to Get Better, Faster, Stronger in Harder Times

reed 096 021114 445x286 DIA Tries to Get Better, Faster, Stronger in Harder Times

Flynn, left, speaks with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., before the start of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on current and future worldwide threats to the national security of the United States in February. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn has a three-fold problem: “We are in persistent conflict,” with ever-changing kinds of conflicts and ever-changing needs for what the DIA provides all over the world, he said Tuesday. Also: “Our defense programs and frankly our intelligence community programs operate at such a turtle’s pace that we have a challenge staying ahead of the adjustments that need to be made.” Also: Money is drying up as the federal government tries to rein in its budget.

What’s a spy/defense agency to do?

The DIA kicked off its annual Innovation Symposium Tuesday by spotlighting some of what it’s doing. The Symposium featured exhibition booths and an audience heavily populated with industry. Media was invited to attend under certain restrictions, including individual escorts at the agency’s headquarters on Bolling Air Force Base.

Flynn hyped the agency’s above-average numbers on working with small businesses, which he said are keys to innovation — especially if they can team with bigger companies that are better equipped to quickly turn ideas into action.

With fewer resources, the agency needs to get more efficient, something Flynn admitted wasn’t happening much in flusher budget times around fiscal 2008. One example of that is an effort across the intelligence community to streamline computer systems via the IC ITE (intelligence community information technology enterprise), pronounced “eyesight.” The consolidation will end up improving national security, he said, since the systems once were so stove-piped: “No enemy keeps me up at night. Our inability to work together is our most dangerous enemy.”

What’s more, it needs to get ideas from industry of which the agency had not previously conceived. One way it’s doing that is via NeedipeDIA, where the agency makes known what kind of needs it has and solicits ideas from industry in a process designed to speed up acquisition — for instance, the DIA has said it wants ideas on lending support to U.S. forces engaged in urban warfare. NeedipeDIA went live in November. So far, said Dan Doney, chief innovation officer at DIA, 240 white papers have been submitted by 133 vendors, 80 percent of which haven’t been traditional DIA contractors. Last week, the agency awarded its first contract via NeedipeDIA, and will get faster now that the first contract is done, although Doney conceded the process still isn’t going as fast as he’d like in some regards, such as in how quickly the agency responds to white papers.

Another problem is that those “unknown known” services, in a spin on the Donald Rumsfeld formulation, are sometimes tough for the government to swallow. “Acquisition law is not well suited to that particular category,” Doney said. “This is where we’re really plowing new territory.”

The agency is also working on an Innovation Gateway that will be detailed more Wednesday, although its aim is to build on the government-industry teaming done through NeedipeDIA. And it is developing on a classified version of NeedipeDIA.

On analysis, the agency has put in place a “Nerd Brigade” of source coders and others to figure out how to streamline and automate menial tasks — like record updates — that intelligence analysts have to deal with, said Catherine Johnston, the agency’s director for analysis. For one kind of record, Johnston said, automation has shaved 5-10 minutes off every record update per record, and for 100 analysts, that equals 7,500 hours of time saved.

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