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After Pledging Huge IT Savings, Can NSA’s Alexander Deliver?

Posted by Colin Clark on

ORLANDO: Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, told a standing-room-only crowd at the annual Geoint intelligence conference last year that the NSA and its sister intelligence agencies could save one third or more on their information technology costs by moving to the so-called cloud.

Given that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last year that the intelligence budget cuts over the next decade would be in the “double digits” — our best information is that the cuts are around $25 bilion over a decade — the pressure is on for Alexander to deliver.

Over the last several weeks I’ve interviewed more than a dozen industry and intelligence officials to gauge whether Alexander was all wet, all right or somewhere in between. The consensus is that the intelligence community may be able to find very impressive savings of 25 percent or more in the long run, but it will be in the long run.

About half of the people I spoke with said they thought the intelligence community could garner no more than 10 percent savings over the next four to five years. Several said they thought the savings figure would be 5 to 7 percent over the next three to four years, when savings would begin to accrue. The other half thought savings of up to 25 percent were possible within five years, but unlikely.

As one long-time information technology expert for a major defense company said today, “it takes a lot of people to do this and people are expensive.” Alexander and his colleagues at NGA, DIA, NRO and the other intelligence agencies must build the new cloud system, make it secure, tear the down the existing stovepipes, standardize the data and migrate that data to the cloud. None of this is cheap, although three sources said they believed “enormous” savings can be had over the long run because the intelligence agencies have so much redundant capability. “I don’t think they even know where all their servers are or how many they have,” one sympathetic observer said.

In the IC’s favor, everyone I spoke with described the intelligence community’s leadership as incredibly cohesive and ready to work together. “I’ve never seen them so serious about saving money and so united,” one industry source said today.

Gen. Alexander speaks at Geoint just before lunch on Thursday. He’s slated to speak about cyber issues. Let’s see if he offers any update on those savings.

What do you think?