BATTLE CREEK, Mich. –
The Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center played host to Defense Logistics Agency personnel from across the enterprise during a cyber disruption-focused event held in Battle Creek, Michigan, in early November.
The mission assurance exercise incorporated experts from DLA’s headquarters directorates and various major sub-commands, all working together from multiple locations to test and improve warfighter support even when responding to a cyberattack.
Jeff Crosson, from DLA Logistics Operations’ Plans and Exercises office, was among exercise control group members that relocated from agency headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to Michigan to help test local customer response capabilities. He said the group of more than a dozen contributors temporarily set up shop in the federal center’s Customer Interaction Center to observe the processes of some of DLA’s more than 80 hotline personnel who can provide continuous phone support to agency customers in the face of various business system disruptions.
Crosson said agency leaders are building a baseline for realistic expectations on how well DLA might perform in a similar real-life scenario.
“What is our real capability when we’re degraded and working under these conditions?” Crosson asked. “How quickly can we recover?”
DLA Logistics Operations Lead Customer Support Specialist Tracy Nance works in the CIC, where she develops policy and procedures for agency support hotline operators, including guidance for what the team should do to place emergency customer orders when DLA systems go down.
“We start the entire process for an order to be fulfilled,” Nance said. “We’re the warfighter’s first contact. We’re basically the bellybutton. We’re testing to see how many calls we can process during this outage.”
Nance said the contract firm was asked to provide a “good mix” of personnel from the CIC to participate and help the agency determine what call length and wait time averages might look like if critical systems do get knocked offline. Volunteers from across the agency posed as customers and kept a steady stream of calls coming in for CIC exercise participants to respond to.
“We already have a process in place,” Nance said, referring to how the CIC operates when systems are occasionally taken down for maintenance. “In this exercise, they’re just trying to stress it with the volume of orders. The goal is to find fail points so we can become more successful.”
DLA Operations Mission Assurance Director Army Col. Kwame Boateng served as exercise facilitator for the Battle Creek control group and said that while some parts of the agency are naturally more resilient than others, the whole organization needs to be able to move together and respond in a crisis.
“DLA is critical to ensuring our Defense Department can run. If you take this important cog out of the machine, some very important things ground to a halt quickly,” Boateng said. “The best plans, the best warfighters can be undermined if the logistics that support them isn’t aligned. The goal here is – should we be targeted because of the importance that we play – we can still meet our mission and support the warfighter.”
Boateng said discovering gaps in capability, even those that might require longer-term attention to address, is a “painful” but primary goal of the exercise, alongside evaluation of cyber resilience and the effectiveness of DLA’s collaborative internal communications.
“Software gives us incredible scale and speed, instant insight into where things are, where things need to be moved,” Boateng said. “Once you lose that, it’s not like it’s impossible to perform, but what becomes impossible is the scale and speed, which requires decisionmakers to do some tough prioritization, sometimes.”
Boateng said DLA leadership has expressed a strong desire to see the agency’s cyber resilience continue progressing and he expects that similar future exercises will increase in both scope and intensity.
“This exercise is the game,” Boateng said. “You don’t typically get better during the game. You get better in the off-season. So once this game’s over, we all need to step up and do the work to make ourselves a better DLA.”