The Department of Defense (DoD) is using big data analytics and automated intelligence to both uncover discrepancies in budget-draining programs and engage leadership to direct funding to the correct priorities, according to a former Deputy Secretary of Defense and the founder of a business intelligence firm that supports the Pentagon.

“Data analytics is a new tool we haven’t really had before that’s going to make the department better,” said Robert Work at Defense One’s Tech Summit on Tuesday.

Work explained that during his tenure at DoD he was deeply curious about overall spending in areas such as cybersecurity and electronic warfare, but the department was never fully able to account for its spending in those areas.

The solution at the time, he said, was to create a cyber investment management board to track down where the dollars were going, and a separate electronic warfare executive council to do the same for that spend area.

Neither were able to produce conclusive, quantitative data, he said. Speaking more broadly, across the entire DoD, Work said that full accounting of “literally millions of contracts” was not possible before the process was automated through big data.

“There’s simply no way, prior to these data analytics capabilities, that you would be able to see how it trickled down through all of the different contracts, through all of the three departments, through all of the four services, to all of the research labs, to all of the individual contractors,” he said.

Work said he was later introduced to an analytics firm, Govini, and was “blown away” that the company was able to track all of DoD project spend “down to the specific contract.”

“That type of data is just not available in the Department of Defense,” he said.

Eric Gillespie, founder and executive chairman of Govini, provided another example on Tuesday that put DoD’s lack of budget oversight into context.

“There was recently a data call from the current Secretary of Defense to determine in the building how much money was being spent on AI programs,” Gillespie said. “It was a multi-month data call, the data came back, and the answer was: there are 38 AI programs that are currently being capitalized in the building.” He said Govini was then asked to verify that information.

“We were asked, ‘Can you use machine learning algorithms to figure out: is that number accurate or is it not accurate?’ There are 593 programs in the building that capital is being deployed against. Not 38,” he said.

MeriTalk previously reported that this revelation led to the formation of an AI center within the department to bring focus to all of its disparate programs.

“That should show you the value of decision-grade information when it’s deployed properly,” Gillespie said.

“We kind of lost visibility of how the money was spent,” Work said. Now, he says DoD is taking a finer eye to the allocation of funds, and which mission areas and capabilities it ought to direct them toward.

“I think the department gets this. I know they’re working hard on the cost accounting piece. I know all of the leadership is focused on getting more quality data information,” Work said. “But now there needs to be a feedback loop to determine whether those priorities are being reflected in the spend.”

Further, he said that the automated intelligence is engaging leaders at all levels. With much more granular data, the department gets increased accountability, visibility, and the ability to act on the information they receive.

“The power of data analytics is any leader in the chain can ask for data that specifically relates to what they’re worried about,” Work said. “Every single leader inside the organization gets access to data that they would not otherwise have had.”

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Joe Franco
Joe Franco
Joe Franco is a Program Manager, covering IT modernization, cyber, and government IT policy for