Skinner takes helm of DISA

By Justin Doubleday / February 26, 2021 at 4:26 PM

Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner took over today as director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of Joint Force Headquarters Department of Defense Information Network, replacing retiring Vice Adm. Nancy Norton.

Skinner was most recently director of command, control, communications and cyber at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. He has also served as commander of Air Forces Cyber, deputy commander of Air Force Space Command and deputy commander of JFHQ-DODIN, among other assignments.

Norton, who had been director since February 2018, spoke with reporters about her tenure yesterday.

At the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States last year, DISA was among the DOD organizations charged with establishing teleworking capabilities for the department's workforce. Norton said the challenge offered an opportunity to speed up DOD network upgrades that would have otherwise taken years in some cases to facilitate "maximum telework."

"We put ourselves in a really good place across the DOD with capability and capacity that meets our requirements for maximum telework and the conditions we find ourselves in today," she said. "And these capabilities are things that are going to endure."

Meanwhile, at the beginning of Norton's tenure in 2018, some House lawmakers proposed shuttering DISA and shifting its responsibilities to U.S. Cyber Command as part of a larger drive to find defense savings. The Trump administration pushed back on the proposal, and it never garnered enough support to become law.

Norton said the agency was successful in convincing people of the "breadth and depth" of what DISA does, while also arguing the services are not structured to provide joint capabilities and services.

"One of my mentors when I talked to him about that during those times said, 'If they dismantle DISA, they're just going to have create another DISA to do these things,'" she said.

Norton's tenure is ending as U.S. officials continue to investigate the SolarWinds hack, a cyber espionage campaign affecting multiple U.S. federal agencies and businesses. Norton declined to address the SolarWinds event directly, but said in general, "it is very difficult to pace the threat in cyberspace."

"It is complex because the technology is changing, the systems are rolled out very rapidly, we have a very heterogeneous environment across the DOD, so there's a lot we have to be constantly watching," she said. "We have concerted adversaries whether those are nation states or non-nation state actors, people who are doing it for profit, people who are doing it for fun, whatever the reason."