Air Force mulls Microsoft license

Using the Army as a model, Air Force officials said they are considering consolidating the service's buying power for Microsoft Corp. software.

The new Air Force Information Technology Commodity Council is "discussing internally doing an Air Force-wide license with Microsoft," said a council official, who requested anonymity. The service is looking at the Army's Microsoft deal, the official said.

The Army announced May 30 a $78 million delivery order worth up to $471 million to Softmart Inc. for a servicewide Microsoft license through 2009.

The commodity council is in the early planning stages of obtaining servicewide Microsoft licenses, the council official said, and it will finalize a strategy in six months.

Air Force chief information officer John Gilligan confirmed the service's intentions. "We're going to buy as one Air Force, which is the big difference," he said in an interview at his Pentagon office.

The Air Force typically issues IT contract vehicles, and its agencies buy from them, Gilligan said. The service's nine major commands, such as Air Combat Command and Air Force Materiel Command, have their own Microsoft licenses, and they work fairly well, he said.

But an enterprise consolidation contract will simplify management of Microsoft products and services and achieve one hardware and software configuration, Gilligan said.

Enterprise consolidation contracts are becoming common practice as government officials negotiate more favorable prices and terms when buying standard data and software programs, said Dan Heinemeier, president of the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association, an Arlington, Va., industry group, in a Sept. 15 statement.

"We have seen this in agency requests to acquire site licenses to use engineering standards in electronic versions on an agencywide basis," Heinemeier said. "This is just the logical extension of that kind of thinking."

Army IT officials met recently with leaders and users to explain the service's new Microsoft licensing agreement, they said in statements.

The Army Enterprise Infostructure-Enterprise Software Consolidation contract centrally funds the purchase of 426,000 Microsoft licenses this year with plans to centrally fund for the next five. The quantity increases to 494,000 after the third year, said Dee Wardle, Army Small Computer Program product leader.

The $78 million delivery order includes five one-year options that could increase the contract's value to $471 million, she said.

The Army will distribute the software to local directorates of information management, Wardle said. The directorates then will provide the software to approved users, she said.

"The people out in the field basically want to verify that they understand the ordering process," Wardle said, "and that they aren't really directly funding these buys, which nobody can believe."

The agreement covers the Army Reserves, the National Guard and active Army — soldiers, civilians and contractors — in three software categories: desktop, business and enterprise. It does not apply to joint organizations such as Central Command and educational institutions such as West Point.

The Army chose Softmart on a best-value basis, said Robin Baldwin, contracting officer at the Army's IT, E-Commerce and Commercial Contracting Center. The small business is one of nine Microsoft resellers approved under the Defense Department's Enterprise Software Initiative, a project that identifies, acquires, distributes and manages software that is used across DOD.

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