Nicolas Chaillan, the U.S. Air Force’s first chief software officer dropped his resignation letter, on LinkedIn, on September 2; he gave the reason as a lack of support. His resignation had been preceded by the stepping-down of Brett Goldstein the director of Pentagon’s Defense Digital Service (DDS) in June. Goldstein had announced his intention to move into consultancy following the end of his three-year term. Further, on September 7, the Pentagon released a technical bulletin showing that it had resumed control of over 125 million IP addresses, which had been handed over to a private company. This series of events raises questions.


Defense Digital Service

DDS is a Pentagon office, stood up in 2015, to handle emerging cyber threats and potential vulnerabilities to Pentagon networks. Staffed with “a team of highly-technical nerds from the private sector and government” DDS leverages emerging technology and technological skills to identify vulnerabilities in network systems, pinpoint attack sources, and lean-forward to find issues that may emerge.

Since its inception, DDS has butted heads with the bureaucratic juggernaut that is the DoD. Some Pentagon members worry that the service is redundant, considering that the branches each have their own cyber-security offices. Others take issue with the office bypassing conventional red tape to push programs through. The office hosts events that attract hackers from around the world to play aerospace and avionics hacking “games” like Hack-A-Sat, which give DoD techs insight into network vulnerabilities. While the hacking takes place against stand-alone simulations, the science behind it has real-world implications.

Then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announces the results of the “Hack the Pentagon” pilot program. (Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee/DoD)

DDS is funded by the U.S. Digital Service (USDS). USDS was originally stood up in 2014 to administer In 2019, USDS encompassed the Office of Management and Budget (OMS), DDS, and VA Digital Services. It had around 180 personnel across the three departments.

Brett Goldstein took over as head of DDS in 2019. During his tenure, DDS doubled in size. Yet, his operations attracted dozens of IG complaints. An Inspector General report in 2020 outlines allegations of hostile work environment, favoritism, and unauthorized software usage. Findings determined that Goldstein was only guilty of using unauthorized messaging software to discuss official DoD business.

As budgets are cut, the Office of Management and Budget is looking to operate DDS as an emergency measures department. Deputy Director of OMB, Margaret Weichert, stated in an interview that she sees DDS providing “rapid-response capability that’s highly technical and very agile and can be deployed literally overnight.” Weichert wants individual military departments to operate their own digital services divisions. By providing stop-gap measures to identified cyber vulnerabilities, DDS gives departments an outline on how to run digital services in-house. Essentially, it acts as an intermediary between the problem and the department, giving a way-forward without implementing it themselves.