In very few other places around government does the chief information officer save people’s lives.
There are plenty of instances at places such as the Food and Drug Administration or the Veterans Affairs Department or the Indian Health Service where technology is critical to the mission, but only at the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) does technology save lives.
And that’s mainly due to how JIEDDO develops a culture of innovation, rapid acquisition and flexibility to get soldiers the technology they need to stop improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“One of our three lines of operation is to attack the network. Think of these global networks reaching across, sharing techniques of terror, sharing money, sharing morale support and recruiting using the Internet, and think about the things we need to do to try and get them before they even build the bomb,” said Jim Craft, the chief information officer of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization. “It’s a knowledge management, information technology empowered activity because it’s global and going at the speed of light.”
Along with attacking the network, Craft focuses on defeating the devices by applying rapidly developing technologies to enable forces to detect and mitigate IEDs.
“You use IT because you have to know what’s being developed and discovered around the world. You have to be able to get the requirements, or gaps, and get those to the really smart people in the private sector, in other parts of government and to our coalition partners, so they know what we need and we can have a dialogue using technology to facilitate that discussion to get those solutions and then a rapid acquisition process to get those products to the field.”
The third line of operation is to train the force using technology to learn what new techniques and tactics the enemy is using and getting that data to the soldiers so they can counter them in the field.
“We want to make that training available to the people who really need it so they can almost self-serve a lot of times and get the training and information they need at real-time when they are in a theater of operation or ramping up to go, and again that’s a knowledge management issue, and to get the training others develop,” he said.
Craft said his organization created a secure Web portal, called the Joint Knowledge and Information Fusion Exchange (J-KnIFE), to get the training to soldiers quickly and efficiently. He said more than 5,000 service members use the portal for training.
Congress set up JIEDDO with tools many CIOs, or for that matter, agencies don’t have. One of them is that it receives multi-year, or colorless money, where funding doesn’t expire and can be used when and how best it’s needed. The organization also has a rapid-acquisition process to get new technologies or tools to the field in weeks or months.
Craft said a perfect example of these tools coming together came when soldiers needed better protection below the waist. He said JIEDDO heard about special underwear that protected soldiers when IEDs exploded around them and kicked up shrapnel.
“Within six months, JIEDDO had managed to get 200,000 sets of equipment into the hands of the forces in theater in Afghanistan,” Craft said. “This was from an email of a requirement to getting improved gear. We generated a high-speed solution that had an undergarment that was an improved version, think of it as a somewhat armored Speedos, with an outer-garment that could take even more damage.”
Craft said there are a lot of applications to find and hunt down bad guys that get to the soldiers in the field much more quickly, in some cases, a year sooner than expected.
Culture of risk to get innovation
Part of the way JIEDDO does that is by creating a culture of managing risk to obtain speed and innovation.
“We have three town hall meetings every quarter within a two-week period. We have a town hall at one of our major locations and then a town hall at another location all connected by Defense Connect Online (DCO) so people can log in if they can’t make it. And then we skip a week and have it at a neutral location so all contractors can bring their senior leadership in. We make it clear what our vision is and what our driver is,” Craft said. “That really deals with a lot of the problems. When people understand how important what we are doing is and the threat is still there and going global, we actually find people sitting at the same table you wouldn’t expect.”
JIEDDO also creates a different kind of relationship with industry. Craft said his staff is mostly contractors so he’s created an information environment coalition to bring together and promote collaboration or discussion among all its vendors. Craft said the government steps out of the discussion so vendors can talk to them as a group to help solve problems.
“We give them a venue where they voluntarily can come together and we’ve given them permission to exchange government information among each other and identify obstacles that the government should work on to make it easier for them to produce the results we want,” he said. “So they, as a group, can come back with recommendations as part of a continuous improvement process arm under our internal review.”
JIEDDO also is working across the government on defeating IEDs. Craft said his office is working with the FBI to revitalize a counter-IED data interagency community of interest.
“We’ve got together leaders who realize we have to work together and lean forward to do things,” he said. “We have to get the vision firmly in people’s minds and let them see the importance of it. Then, you put the mechanisms in to mitigate risk.”
All of these efforts come back to saving and protecting soldiers from IEDs.
To that end, Craft said JIEDDO Director Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero pushes senior leaders to meet with combatant commanders to hear directly from them about their challenges and needs.
“We have a culture where the director of JIEDDO, and I think all past directors of JIEDDO, are people that are selected that are hardened combat commanders who understand that they have to accept risk to get the mission done. The current director knows how to accept risk to get the mission done and he pushes and empowers, and says, ‘I want you to take the risk to get the mission done quickly because speed means live.’ That’s something every day of the week we are reviewing who gets hurt and how bad they get hurt, and that drives us to move faster on everything we do.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-9 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.