Air Force Secretary: No Excuse for Unresponsive, Slow IT

A recent open letter by an Air Force employee demanding that the Pentagon upgrade its IT systems struck a chord with many on social media—and now, the Secretary of the Air Force has weighed in, saying the service has “got to be better” on the issue.

In a widely-shared LinkedIn post on Jan. 25, Michael Kanaan, the director of operations for the Air Force’s Artificial Intelligence Accelerator at MIT, reeled off a long litany of complaints about Defense Department IT, mostly centered on its sloth-like slowness. He ended each with a simple request: “Fix our computers.”

“I wrote an email the other day that took over an hour to send … I opened an Excel file today, my computer froze and needed to be restarted … I turned on my computer and it sat at 100 [percent] CPU usage,” Kanaan wrote of the problems he has faced.

At a virtual Coffee Talk event Jan. 27, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall was asked for his thoughts on Kanaan’s letter.

“I haven’t seen as extreme conditions as were described in … [that] list,” Kendall said. “This is, if you haven’t heard it, it’s a long list of notional, to some degree, or anecdotal problems people have with our IT systems. And it’s very forcefully put,” Kendall said. “We’re certainly working those problems. And, as I mentioned earlier, giving our people the tools they need to do their jobs—in many cases, that’s their IT tools, so things that they use every day at their desks. So we’ve got to get better.”

Kanaan’s letter drew more than 1,700 reactions on LinkedIn and scores of comments from fellow DOD employees, with many echoing his observation that the Pentagon has lost “HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of employee hours last year because computers don’t work.”

It was a complaint that was also acknowledged by the Air Force’s chief information officer, Lauren Barrett Knausenberger, in a written response to the post.

“Oh man,” wrote Knausenberger, “I echo your open plea to fund IT. It’s the foundation of our competitive advantage and also ensures every single person can maximize their time on mission.”

Knausenberger later told Air Force Magazine that “there’s just not enough money to fix it all at once. Everything is harder than it needs to be due to our legacy debt.”

Kendall also cited funding as an issue, but he quickly noted that didn’t make the current state of affairs acceptable.

“There are resource issues that affect that, there are things that we have to do to comply with certain requirements that affect that a little bit,” Kendall said. “But there’s really no excuse for not having IT that’s responsive and capable. So we get it, and we’re working on it.”

Kendall’s pledge was backed up by Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass, who added that Knausenberger has already been working on the issue.

“Folks always say like, ‘I wonder if they know?’ I assure you, we do because we do experience those same challenges, and it’s frustrating as heck that we have to do so,” Bass said. “What I will tell you is this is a complex issue on multiple fronts: networking, infrastructure, hardware, etc. Where my faith really is, is in our chief information officer. I’ve seen the strategy that she’s outlined myself and penned it to paper on, here’s what we have to get after. We’ll just have to work really hard to make sure that we’re able to budget for the foundation of what every single one of our Airmen and Guardians need.”