Losing $200M annually on unliquidated obligations, DIA looks to automate

“I think AI can really contribute into network configuration and edge computing," the agency's chief financial officer said.
DIA CFO Steven Rush (right) speaks to UiPath's VP David Melvin on April 17, 2024. (Photo by Scoop News Group)

It’s no secret that the U.S. intelligence community sometimes lags in adopting new technologies, as its inherent need to securely operate on multiple, and sometimes foreign, networks can slow down innovation. However, the Defense Intelligence Agency is cautiously and carefully puzzling out the areas within its enterprise that are poised for automation and other artificial intelligence-enabled improvements, according to its finance leader.

“Every year, I lose about $200 million a year, out the door, because of unliquidated obligations and an inability to automatically track that and monitor if we obligate funds in a timely fashion. Our officers are really, really good at obligating funds on contracts — and not really, really good at cost recovery and filing invoices,” DIA’s Chief Financial Officer Steven Rush said Wednesday. “This is another area that’s ripe for automation.”

At the UiPath on Tour Public Sector conference hosted by Scoop News Group, Rush spotlighted a variety of other emerging use cases and opportunities for technology-driven improvements across DIA’s processes and portfolios.

While officials are beginning to introduce some automation, cybersecurity is one realm that “is still very manual” for the agency, in the CFO’s view.


“I think AI can really contribute into network configuration and edge computing. God forbid we get into some sort of conflict or hostilities with China — edge computing is going to be critical and using AI to be able to configure networks at the edge is going to be critical, as well as monitoring the network. So it’s an area we’re heavily invested in and funded heavily in the last couple of years,” Rush said.

He confirmed it “will take about another five to seven years for modernization” of the top secret/sensitive compartmented information fabric called JWICS that DIA runs for the intelligence community. 

“But AI is a critical component in that for cybersecurity for us, for sure,” Rush said.

In defense finance, there are very rigid compliance procedures for meeting governance requirements — an area where there’s much room for AI improvements and automation at DIA.

“One of the challenges we have is, before AI is necessarily useful, we have to understand our processes. We have multiple legacy systems that don’t talk to one another. Understanding and how to communicate between those processes is critical,” Rush noted.


The agency has been on what he referred to as “an 11-year journey to understand” all of those complex processes.

“I hope in the next couple of years we’ll be to the point where AI is a critical factor in just maintaining compliance and maintaining a clean or unmodified opinion on our audit, but it’s another area ripe for investment and innovation. The challenge, though, is just understanding our legacy systems and processes, so we know how to automate smartly,” the CFO said.

When it comes to IT and other technology investments, he recognizes how the “business side” of the agency has to compete with intelligence operations.

“You can imagine it’s similar to the Navy. If you’re buying an aircraft carrier, it’s really easy to invest in. When you’re investing in back-office operations, it’s tough. We have that challenge in the financial area,” Rush said.  

Another issue that DIA is confronting when it comes to automating functions to boost staffs’ experience around the enterprise is unique to its multi-generational workforce.


“My team loves spreadsheets. They like fax machines. Believe it or not, we have a dial-up modem and floppy disk for part of our operations. One of my counterparts in the intel community actually still uses microfiche. We’re using 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, technology in 2024. So, simple things like asking a data query might take my team hours and hours and hours to comb through spreadsheets, collate data, look through products and then present static PowerPoints to me,” Rush said.

“So now, we’re really in the infancy of our AI journey. We used [automation and robotics] to transition travel voucher statements from our unclassified side to the high side, that is just barely scratched the surface. I want for the day when we’re living and working in the live dashboards,” he added.

But in the same offices and on some of the same teams where officials are “actually afraid of having live dashboards where other people can see the information and analyze it and question it,” Rush noted, there’s also younger coworkers who want much more access to advanced tech to do their jobs.

“Some of the younger members of our workforce we’ve had leave, because they come in and they go, ‘What do you mean I can’t use [generative AI like] ChatGPT on a top secret network? What do you mean, you don’t have these tools?’ One of our young officers from our comptroller shop luckily stayed with us. But he went to another department and he said, ‘I could write script in 20 minutes if you would give me the tools to do this on the top secret level — and I could automate 80% of my work. So, he left from being an accountant in our comptroller shop, he’s working another part of the budget process,” Rush said. “So that cultural challenge is real for us.”

Brandi Vincent

Written by Brandi Vincent

Brandi Vincent is DefenseScoop's Pentagon correspondent. She reports on emerging and disruptive technologies, and associated policies, impacting the Defense Department and its personnel. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Brandi produced a long-form documentary and worked as a journalist at Nextgov, Snapchat and NBC Network. She was named a 2021 Paul Miller Washington Fellow by the National Press Foundation and was awarded SIIA’s 2020 Jesse H. Neal Award for Best News Coverage. Brandi grew up in Louisiana and received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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