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RADM David Simpson Reflects on DISA Tenure and Envisions Agency’s Future

“I have always been a DISA fan,” said DISA Vice Director RADM David G. Simpson, reflecting on his 31 year career in the U.S. Navy. “There’s not a deployment that I’ve been on that I did not realize the importance of DISA’s mission and its relationship to the success of whatever operational unit or units I was responsible for.”

Simpson, who will soon retire from the uniformed service, recently reflected on his tenure as the vice director of DISA, a position he has held since July 1, 2011.

“What I didn’t fully appreciate [before working here], was the breadth and depth of the talent at DISA. I have been very impressed with the number of simultaneous activities that go on all around the world, every day, led by individuals at DISA who see the imperative to reduce mission gaps and to provide new capabilities for warfighters at the edge.”

RADM David Simpson

David Simpson decided to join the navy when he was 12 years old. He is pictured visiting the USS Missouri in 1975, at age 14 (above) and as a lieutenant commander in 1990 (below).

RADM David Simpson

RADM David Simpson

RDML Simpson during his assignment as the director for Communications and Information Systems for U.S. Forces Iraq in 2009.

RADM David Simpson

Simpson, who was promoted to rear admiral upper half in 2011, will end his 31 year career in the U.S. Navy as vice director of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The admiral worked on some of DISA’s furthest reaching initiatives, and cited enterprise services, mobility, cybersecurity, and the evolution of the Joint Information Environment (JIE) as the four he was most invested in.

“They all represent ways in which DISA has fundamentally reshaped how the department will deliver information advantage to every DoD mission area,” he said.

Enterprise Services

Simpson first joined DISA when approximately 20,000 — out of a planned 1.4 million — Army users had migrated to DoD Enterprise Email (DEE). Over the course of those migrations, DISA and the Army had identified several areas for improvement and chose to take an operational pause.

“As the DISA team examined why developing to scale was so hard, we recognized that as impressive as the technology was, the technology wouldn’t get us there on its own,” said Simpson. “That was an epiphany for me.”

He realized that in order to be successful as an enterprise service provider, DISA’s process management needed to be restructured around the objective of scaling to 4 million DoD users.

“We committed to building the Defense Enterprise Service Management Framework in a way that specified each of the key processes associated with the design, transition, and operation of enterprise capabilities.”

“At the same time as we defined the processes, we committed to being audit-ready and fully transparent in what things cost,” he said.

The model — with clearly defined processes and transparency in cost and operations —evolved with DEE and has set the stage for other enterprise services, including DoD enterprise portal, mobility, and cloud broker services.


The admiral was also engaged in DISA’s contributions to the DoD mobility strategy and development of an enterprise mobility service.

“We recognized that the department’s legacy approach for mobility services would not sufficiently support emerging requirements,” said Simpson, citing that the legacy approach to mobility was oriented around a single vendor and device-level security.

The agency set out to design “an enterprise mobility service sized for the entire DoD,” he said. DISA also focused on shifting the burden of security from the device to the “mobile ecosystem.”

That ecosystem, which will include a mobile device management capability and mobile application store, will reach initial operational capability in January 2014.

Mobility is also a key component of DISA’s unified capabilities offering, which will seamlessly integrate voice, video, data, and application services.


The vice director also dedicated focus to improving the agency’s cybersecurity posture, particularly with regard to data-oriented security, active defense of networks, and cyber workforce development.

“In the past, we had a ‘boundary and host’ orientation toward security — strength at the boundary and strength at the device level. But we began to see indications that that wouldn’t be good enough. We needed to introduce more data-centric and behavior-oriented security practices.”

DISA’s multi-tier efforts in the cybersecurity domain have also focused on “the ability to spot anomalies, analyze those anomalies, and bring defensive measures to bear before the adversary could exploit them,” he said.

Simpson said that DISA has also dedicated resources toward shaping and developing the cyber workforce, including defining roles, changing the command and control structure of defensive cyber operations, and instituting the “DISA Mini Flag” exercises to ensure that our workforce was up to the challenge of the advancing threat.

“Today, as we deal with insider threat and supply chain risks, our commitment to addressing the cyber workforce at the same time as we bring to bear new technologies has been validated,” said Simpson.

The Joint Information Environment

“The need for a JIE was seared in my mind by the memory of my deployments, where too often, those at the tip of the spear had to bear the burden of stitching together the various networks that were delivered to the operational environment,” said Simpson.

“The department has made significant progress in defining a single JIE that will be much more capable for the full range of operational deployments that our forces will need in the future.”

Simpson said that compared to the existing infrastructure, JIE will offer more capabilities, a higher degree of defense, better ability to work with coalition partners, and a much better structure for efficiency and affordability.

All About the Warfighter

“While those are three major thrust areas that I’m proud of, my greatest satisfaction is in daily working with the men and women deployed all around the world and ensuring the readiness, robustness, and utility of the services that DISA is charged with providing,” said Simpson, who noted several ways the agency has accomplished this objective.

“We’ve significantly improved the reliability of long-haul communications to remotely piloted aircraft. We’ve added robustness in terrestrial long-haul communications in Southwest Asia, improved the interoperability between U.S. forces and our partners in the Pacific, and postured DISA to be a capable warfighter within the global cyber battlespace.”

Looking Forward

DISA’s momentum is just beginning to build, said Simpson. He’s looking forward to seeing where the agency goes, and offered these predictions:

“I think DISA will be an agency that is increasingly predictive and proactive as it brings all of the support functions — acquisition, procurement, technology, research and development, test and evaluation, and spectrum — together in an enterprise framework. These functions will combine to enable an agency that is able to spot opportunity and threats years in the future and self organize for effective response.”

“I also see DISA in a lead role for the command and control of DoD Information Networks and defensive cyber operations, where the each of the service components, combatant commanders, and theater forces rely upon DISA to anchor the information environment supporting all of their critical operations.”

DISA’s evolution as a combat support agency is grounded in the talents and mission focus of the workforce, Simpson said.

“People truly are the strength of the agency, and I believe that the men and women of DISA are capable of seeing the potential of new technologies, understanding the operational needs at the edge, and putting together solutions that regularly allow technology to solve operational problems,” he said. “DISA’s men and women will continue to deliver information advantage wherever U.S. forces fight forward, and do so against an adversary that increasingly recognizes the strength we derive from that asymmetric advantage.”

Setting Sail

Simpson says he is not “retiring,” but transitioning from uniformed service to a civilian position where he can “continue to contribute to the strength of our nation.”

Bidding farewell to the workforce, Simpson said, “I’d like to thank every military person, every civilian, and every contract employee of DISA for their friendship and support throughout my tour.”

“Listen to our warfighter partners, be cyber warfighters yourselves; and look out for each other; it takes all of us to succeed.”

Army MG Alan R. Lynn will assume the position of DISA vice director on Sept. 30. Lynn served as the agency’s chief of staff from July 2007 to October 2008 and has since commanded the 311th Theater Signal Command, the Army’s Signal Center of Excellence, and the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command.



Posted September 30, 2013