Federal News Radio reports on the US Navy’s attempt to remove a management bureaucracy layer by eliminating the previous executive-level Navy Chief Information Officer position:

A memo signed last Friday by Thomas Modly, the new undersecretary of the Navy, effectively eliminates the office of the Department of the Navy chief information officer, formerly an influential, separate position within the Secretary of the Navy’s organizational chart.

Going forward, Modly himself will take over the pro-forma title of DON CIO along with all of its responsibilities and authorities. A handful of staff will remain assigned to a restructured and downsized office, but only to handle the IT duties that federal law explicitly requires the secretaries of the military departments to perform.

The changes to the CIO role come as part of a broader management restructuring Modly directed just a few months after his confirmation as the Navy’s number-two civilian official.

The memo fully eliminates the deputy undersecretary of the Navy for management, the organization that, until last week, oversaw the DON CIO and some other functions, including its Office of Strategy and Innovation.

On the surface this sounds like a really bad idea(tm). There needs to be some senior executive leadership overseeing how the Department of the Navy handles not just information technology assets, but the associated cyber security requirements to adequately defend Navy networks.

The new arrangement appears to de-emphasize the notion that the two sea services should operate under one set of IT policies, but also reflects the realities of the different directions the Navy and Marine Corps have taken. The split was noticeable after a 2013 restructuring of what had previously been a single contract for a fully-outsourced Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI).

In the intervening years, the Navy and Marine Corps have chosen to pursue different models under the Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) contract.

The Marines have opted for a fully government owned-and-operated network known as the Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN), including a cloud computing strategy that relies largely on a Marine-operated cloud computing center in Kansas City (MCEITS).

Meanwhile, the Navy has leaned toward an operating model in which it owns most of its infrastructure, but relies on the NGEN contract to perform most of the day-to-day labor involved in running its IT networks in the continental U.S.

Modly’s decision to devolve more control to the services also potentially reduces confusion about the various positions in the Navy that can lay claim to the title of CIO.

NMCI has nothing been short of an utter train wreck. It is no surprise the Marine Corp pulled out of that disaster to go their own separate, more agile way of handling IT. Not only are the Marines doing it for less cost, but the service levels have dramatically increased. I never heard a single person who was happy with NMCI.

Government owned, government operated is a far better model than allowing a contractor to come in and nickel and dime the Navy for every little thing they do. NMCI, and by extension the Overseas Navy Enterprise Network (ONE-NET), have never been truly successful. I foresee NGEN turning into the same type of disaster ONE-NET was unless there are some major modifications made to the way the contract is executed.

The Navy has, and continues, to do things its own way compared to the rest of the US military. After all, this is the department still paying Microsoft to support Windows XP because there are too many outstanding deployments of the operating system in mission critical areas. Rather than paying to upgrade those systems, the Navy is paying for security patches. This is just outright unfathomable. So maybe its makes sense the Navy has opted to eliminate the CIO position because, it could be argued, they were not doing their job to begin with.

Bottom line, removing the CIO position demonstrates a lack of understanding of what role a CIO should play in a major organization like the Department of the Navy. I am extremely concerned about the direction the Navy is going and wonder what unintended consequences there will be from this change.