BALTIMORE–Leaders from the Defense Information Services Agency (DISA) and Department of Defense (DoD) agencies are working to improve collaboration efforts between agencies and with the cyber industry, in an area that is seen as lagging behind technology and capability efforts, according to representatives at Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) cyber conference.

Agency leaders reached out to cyber industry professionals at AFCEA’s Defense Cyber Operations Symposium on Tuesday and Wednesday to express their areas for concern with collaboration, including the need to improve the streamlining of communication on technology needs and the lack of incentives for agencies to work together to solve cyber issues.

DISA leaders addressing the media at AFCEA's Defense Cyber Operations Symposium. Photo: Matthew Beinart.
DISA leaders addressing the media at AFCEA’s Defense Cyber Operations Symposium. Photo: Matthew Beinart.

“We have mismanaged skills to figure what tomorrow’s problems are,” DISA Development and Business Center Director Alfred Rivera said, discussing the role that outsider perspectives can have in helping agency efforts.

DISA is working on addressing gaps in technology needs by investing in workforce training such as pathway internship programs to bring in cyber-focused engineers into the agency and allowing project managers and Office Testing Agencies to have more flexibility with addressing cyber problems in real time, according to Rivera.

The agency is also taking at a look at the role its analysts can hold in bridging the communication gap with other DoD agencies to address their cyber needs.

“The ability for the analyst to share information is one of those things we are looking at, and then seeing how to share information with the services and other agencies,” DISA Cyber Development Executive John Hickey said, discussing the role his team can play in strengthening the working group in place to effectively share network management tools across DoD agencies. “Today I will tell you we knew we had a gap among our own analysts on the operations side, but that capability is now there today and those analysts can collaborate on projects and follow all projects if they choose.”

For the other agencies under DoD, the main point of concern is pushing for more incentives when it comes to collaborating on cyber defense issues and defining initiatives.

“We’re not built to collaborate and cooperate effectively,”  Director of Cyberspace Operations for the North American Aerospace Defense Command Brig. Gen. Mark Weatherington said in a panel discussion on DoD collaboration on Tuesday.

Challenges that stifle successful inter-agency collaboration on cyber initiatives include the eight to 12-month  process project management offices must go through to put a team on a new cyber task, the lack of information sharing and the struggle to prioritize cyber needs when new threats arise constantly, according to Weatherington.

“You have to bring all your organizations under one common framework and one common network,” panel moderator and Joint Force Headquarters – Department of Defense Information Network  Deputy Commander Maj Gen Robert J. Skinner said, pointing to his team as a tool for organizing the cyber battlespace.  

Prioritizing and streamlining efforts with cyber industry professionals was a common theme for improved collaboration to deal with new cyber challenges.

“I can’t describe how important communication is between the services and between the service and the industry,” said Col. Paul Brooks, Mission Assurance Division chief for the Department of the Army Management Office – Cyber. “We have had great cooperation from our industry partners, but we’ve got to get even better”

The main goal for DISA was to keep the emphasis on addressing how increased collaboration will help the cyber needs of those who need their technology the most.

“We have to focus on the warfighter, and making sure they have the capabilities they need,” DISA Director Lt. Gen. Alan Lynn said. “We’re looking for a win-win with the warfighter and industry.”