Defense Acquisitions:

Steps Needed to Ensure Interoperability of Systems That Process Intelligence Data

GAO-03-329: Published: Mar 31, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2003.

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Making sure systems can work effectively together (interoperability) has been a key problem for the Department of Defense (DOD) yet integral to its goals for enhancing joint operations. Given the importance of being able to share intelligence data quickly, we were asked to assess DOD's initiative to develop a common ground-surface-based intelligence system and to particularly examine (1) whether DOD has adequately planned this initiative and (2) whether its process for testing and certifying the interoperability of new systems is working effectively.

DOD relies on a broad array of intelligence systems to study the battlefield and identify and hit enemy targets. These systems include reconnaissance aircraft, satellites, and ground-surface stations that receive, analyze, and disseminate intelligence data. At times, these systems are not interoperable--either for technical reasons (such as incompatible data formats) and/or operational reasons. Such problems can considerably slow down the time to identify and analyze a potential target and decide whether to attack it. One multibillion-dollar initiative DOD has underway to address this problem is to pare down the number of ground-surface systems that process intelligence data and upgrade them to enhance their functionality and ensure that they can work with other DOD systems. The eventual goal is an overarching family of interconnected systems, known as the Distributed Common Ground-Surface System (DCGS). To date, planning for this initiative has been slow and incomplete. DOD is developing an architecture, or blueprint, for the new systems as well as an overarching test plan and an operational concept. Although DCGS was started in 1998, DOD has not yet formally identified which systems are going to be involved in DCGS; what the time frames will be for making selections and modifications, conducting interoperability tests, and integrating systems into the overarching system; how transitions will be funded; and how the progress of the initiative will be tracked. Moreover, DOD's process for testing and certifying that systems will be interoperable is not working effectively. In fact, only 2 of 26 DCGS systems have been certified as interoperable. Because 21 of the systems that have not been certified have already been fielded, DOD has a greater risk that the new systems will not be able to share intelligence data as quickly as needed. Certifications are important because they consider such things as whether a system can work with systems belonging to other military services without unacceptable workarounds and whether individual systems conform to broader architectures designed to facilitate interoperability across DOD.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DCGS program management placed the certification process on the Interoperability Watch List. Two systems have been certified for interoperability and 22 of 26 systems identified in GAO's report have developed formal certification plans.

    Recommendation: To ensure that systems critical to an effective DCGS are interoperable, the Secretary of Defense should take steps needed to enforce its certification process, including directing the service secretaries in collaboration with the Joint Staff, Acquisition Executives, and the Joint Interoperability Test Command to (1) examine reasons the services are slow to comply with its certification requirement, and (2) mechanisms that can be implemented to instill better discipline in adhering to the certification requirement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The FY 2004 Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 108-136) directed DOD to create a Defense Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Integration Roadmap. The roadmap for DCGS was incorporated into the larger effort and the final report was issued in May 2005. In the Roadmap, DOD indicated that the investment strategy was the program of record as of the FY 2006 president's budget. The Integration Roadmap will be updated periodically.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence to develop an investment strategy to identify what funds are available, both for the initial phases of the DCGS migration and transition to the target architecture, and whether there are gaps or constraints that need to be addressed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The FY 2004 Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 108-136) directed DOD to create a Defense Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Integration Roadmap. The roadmap for DCGS was incorporated into the larger effort and was published in May 2005.

    Recommendation: To ensure that an effective Distributed Common Ground-Surface System is adequately planned and funded, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence to expand the planning efforts for DCGS to include a migration plan or road map that as a minimum lays out (1) current system capabilities and desired capabilities; (2) specific initiatives, programs, projects and schedules to get DOD and the services to their goal; (3) measures to gauge success in implementing the migration plan as well as the enterprise architecture; and (4) mechanisms for ensuring that the plan is followed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD increased funding by $750,000 in FY 05 and 06 to improve Joint Interoperability Test Command's ability to oversee DCGS testing and certification. Funding for specific test events continues to be responsibility of the services.

    Recommendation: If lack of funding is found to be significant barrier, the Secretary of Defense should consider centrally funding the DCGS certification process as a pilot program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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