A Department of Defense employee calling for the military to fix its outdated, decrepit computers has found a receptive and equally frustrated audience, and for good reason: Despite having a $700 billion budget, many of the military’s computers are from the stone age.
“Yesterday, I spent an hour waiting just to log-on,” wrote Michael Kanaan, the director of operations for the Air Force – MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator, in a viral letter released on Tuesday. The letter was liked nearly 2,000 times and reshared by hundreds of users on Twitter and received at least 1,600 upvotes on Reddit, where military members past and present found common cause in the employee’s complaints.
“Want innovation? You lost literally HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of employee hours last year because computers don’t work. Fix our computers,” Kanaan said, before jumping into a list of widely-shared grievances he had about the state of the military’s computer infrastructure.
“We’re the richest and most well-funded military in the world …. and yet somehow fundamental IT funding is still an afterthought,” he wrote. “It’s not a money problem, it’s a priority problem.”
The root cause for many of those office problems may go all the way to the top of the military.
“I share some of the frustrations expressed on that post,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said when asked about the post in a live conversation with Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass on Thursday. “We’ve got to get better …there’s really no excuse for not having IT that’s responsive and capable.”
Bass said she also knows the computer struggle.
“We do experience those same challenges and it’s frustrating as heck that we have to do so,” she said. Fixing it will be a complex issue involving hardware, networking and infrastructure, Bass said, but she added that she has faith in the Air Force’s chief information officer, Lauren Barrett Knausenberger.
“I’ve seen the strategy that she’s outlined myself,” Bass said. “Here’s what we have to get after.”
Knausenberger herself weighed in on the issue earlier this week.
“Oh man, Michael Kanaan. I echo your open plea to fund IT,” she wrote on her LinkedIn page.
Knausenberger said her team has advised the Air Force major commands to finally switch their laptops from the old spinning disk hard drive to the more-modern solid-state hard drives. The CIO team is also working with computer security companies McAfee and Tanium to improve user experience (UX) and “streamline” the Air Force’s security, operations, and UX needs. She also hopes to release a “common road map” so that stakeholders know how the process is going.
Still, Knausenberger said that budget concerns are slowing down her team’s work.
“Everything is harder than it needs to be due to our legacy debt,” she said.
Bass agreed with that issue.
“We’ll just have to work really hard to make sure that we are able to budget for the foundation of what every single one of our airmen and guardians needs,” the airman said.
That better happen soon, because some experts warn that failing computers could be a serious strategic issue in a cyber fight.
“[I]t’s not just a retention issue, it’s a recruiting issue,” said Jeremy Buyer, a “people ops manager” for the Air Force, on LinkedIn.
“USAF says we need top talent cyber warriors and that we should hire them off the streets,” he said. “The hardware alone will cause them to leave. You think their buddies at Facebook, Google, and Amazon have their internet go out for 90 mins each day? What little leverage we might have over the Google’s of the world—i.e. a noble mission set like ‘service to country’—we undoubtedly lose with our stone aged IT infrastructure.”
You can read the full letter below:
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