Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, Jr., director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) at Fort Meade, leads a global organization of military and civilian personnel. They plan, develop, deliver and operate its joint interoperable command and control capabilities, and a global enterprise infrastructure; they also support the president, secretary of defense, joint chiefs of staff, combatant commanders, Department of Defense (DoD) components and other mission partners.
Hawkins received his commission as a distinguished graduate of the ROTC program at Angelo State University (ASU) in 1977. He earned a bachelor of business administration from ASU, holds a master of science in Management and Human Relations from Abilene Christian University and a master of science in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University.
He has commanded Cadet Squadron 24 at the U.S. Air Force Academy; Air Combat Command’s Computer Systems Squadron and Communications Group; and the Air Force Officer Accession and Training Schools at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. In addition to various communications positions, Hawkins has also served as vice director for DISA.
Prior to his current assignment, Hawkins was the deputy director command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems, Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
His military education includes Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College; he was a distinguished graduate at each. Hawkins also attended the Program for Senior Managers in Government at Harvard University. His many awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.
Now that DISA’s relocation to Fort Meade is complete, what is the next challenge for the agency and how do you plan to approach it?
Our people are our strength and greatest asset. The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) move was a challenge, due to anticipation of high employee turnover. With that move complete, stabilization of our workforce is the next big challenge.
We have already begun to address it through aggressive hiring initiatives, strong leadership education programs, and extensive employee training and development opportunities.
What do you find to be the biggest plus about the new headquarters?
Being at Fort Meade provides a secure environment and includes the benefit of proximity to USCYBERCOM and the National Security Agency. Our new facility is built on an architecture that allows for agile development and also allows us to reallocate space for employees and their communication needs as the nature of information sharing evolves.
Additionally, it provides the means to continuously operate and perform our mission under any circumstances through built-in redundancies. Last, but certainly not least, our host base partners at Fort Meade are providing outstanding support to DISA in our new facility.
How many employees take advantage of DISA’s telecommuting policy? Have any adjustments been made to it since the move?
Ninety-eight percent of our eligible employees participate in DISA’s telework program — the participation rate has remained the same since before the move. We have not had to adjust the program since our move to Fort Meade because of our existing policy and positive culture surrounding telework. Our administrative procedures for telework are consistent with work performed in the office: information security and device training remain the same.
Telework via e-mail, instant messaging, telephone, virtual private networks, conference calls and web conferencing gives us the added flexibility to respond to natural events (such as a snowstorm) and keeps us operational regardless of the external elements or events. The appeal of our telework policy has also helped us to retain many workers during the BRAC transition and also has helped us recruit new employees.
The arrival of DISA to Fort Meade has been billed as more of a commuting event than a relocation event. But with the move completed about nine months ago, is that starting to change?
While some individuals might have considered the BRAC as a commuting event, it has also become a relocation event. There are now more employees that work at DISA headquarters in Fort Meade and live in Maryland than live in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, the District of Columbia and Virginia combined. This was not the case when we first opened our facility here at Fort Meade.
So, between the new hires and the almost 800 employees that applied for Permanent Change of Station orders, we now have a Maryland-based workforce. During the next few years, as more people choose to retire or find positions closer to home, we can anticipate that it will be an exception for employees to live outside Maryland.
What is DISA doing to help educate a local work force that needs to train more workers in cybersecurity, especially given the retirement of many technically experienced workers?
Internally, DISA continues to maintain a robust training program focused on cybersecurity, information assurance and other security-related initiatives to train and develop its employees; externally, we work to educate and grow its future workforce by engaging with local academia to increase educational opportunities in the cyber career fields, including public schools in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, state universities and the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Currently, DISA has participated in several educational outreach initiatives to educate the local workforce on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, and our Guest Lecturer Program fosters working relationships and partnerships with Maryland educational institutions — senior executive service members, subject matter experts and highly qualified experts provide subject matter content to college and university students.
DISA conducts several STEM Student Programs (STEP UP, DISCOVER and STRIDE). These programs aim to teach students in grades seven through 10 critical technology and engineering precepts that will be vital to their success in the engineering and information technology career fields. We also participate in several working groups and educational panels about developing a cyber workforce.
How is DISA addressing society’s — and the military’s — evolution to mobile devices?
Operationally, DISA’s objective is to ensure an environment in which the user can securely connect with any device, anytime, anywhere on the globe and be productive. We are aggressively engaged in the DoD’s effort to leverage commercial mobility services for the warfighter by working with the military services, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and industry partners to make mobile devices safer and more reliable.
We are also working with the DoD to develop security requirement guides, which apply guidance to an operating system or agnostic device versus a specific mobile device. These guides are a more proactive approach and will allow the department to provide security guidance that will drive development of mobile devices — instead of the current model, which reactively develops security guidance for products that already exist. We want to be agnostic with the appliances that are used from a mobile perspective.
DISA is also leading a limited pilot for mobility, with the goal of achieving a ubiquitous mobile infrastructure. While the pilot is limited in scope, we expect to expand it to include new capabilities and users as it moves forward.
How is DISA addressing a geopolitical shift in needs in the U.S., with the Obama administration looking to quell possible threats from China and the Pacific Rim nations?
We have a vision for our future within U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), and we are working that in concert with our PACOM mission partners within the J6 (Command, Control, Communications & Computer Systems) community to design the path to build to capacity and capability that is needed.
What is the state of DISA’s budget?
The DoD budget reductions certainly affect DISA in various ways. The dominant component of our budget is the Defense Working Capital Fund (DWCF), which is dependent upon the information technology demand of the department and our users. Because those demands are increasing, we do not anticipate a reduction in the DWCF.
On the other hand, operations and maintenance accounts are likely to decline, and we must monitor this area closely as we move forward. Being efficient and helping our users avoid costs is a priority for us. In every area, we must continue to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, and we are committed to building trust and transparency, as evidenced by the agency having achieved a clean audit opinion for our DWCF and our work towards a clean audit of our general fund.
How is DISA working with the local business community? What partnerships would you like to establish?
While DISA does not establish specific partnerships with businesses, DISA’s office of small business programs meets with local small businesses weekly to discuss their business capabilities and their relation to DISA’s mission. They have also participated in various business events that included the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and BRAC Business Initiative (BBI).
Additionally, our new location has opened up new interactions and speaking engagements between DISA personnel and business and civic associations, such as the Fort Meade Alliance, the BWI Business Partnership and the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.