Hitting the ground running

The much-awaited prime integrator contract for the massive foreign visitor tracking system

isn't expected until late May, but eager vendors are already positioning themselves for the win.

Three companies vying for the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program's major contract have set up office space,

allotted staff and are well into the process of developing potential solutions. The program's aggressive deadlines and high visibility make this early work necessary, experts said.

"They cannot afford to be in a position of low preparedness," said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of consulting at Federal Sources Inc. "There is a heavy political agenda on this program. Congress is already demanding this degree of performance and this degree of early deployment. They definitely have to be in a position to do it."

Teams led by Lockheed Martin Corp., Accenture and Computer Sciences Corp. submitted proposals in January for the multimillion-dollar program. Two of the three teams' efforts will soon be for naught, but it's still worth it, Bjorklund said, and such extensive investments have become commonplace for major technology programs.

"It's a calculated risk," he said. "It's a major business risk, but it's not to say it's too high a risk."

Accenture officials formed the Smart Border Alliance team last October and have dozens of staff working on the design and building solutions for US-VISIT, said Eric Stange, managing partner of defense and homeland security for Accenture. The team is focused on transition and deployment plans for implementing US-VISIT at the 50 largest land ports of entry, which must occur by the end of this year. In January, the team leased a floor in the same office building as DHS' program staff in Arlington, Va.

"The big driver here is the aggressive schedule," Stange said. "We also felt very strongly that working closely with the government is going to be very important, which is why when there was an opportunity to take space in this building, we jumped on it."

Lockheed Martin officials have set up two office spaces: a program office in Rosslyn, Va., and a development lab in Rockville, Md., where they have begun working on software development and testing plans, said Dick Fogel, director of strategic initiatives for Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions. The team, which Fogel estimated will spend more than $2 million on the program before the award date, has established cost and schedule baselines and is integrating business processes and preparing a proposed communication strategy, Fogel said.

"If we don't start this now, we can never be ready to deliver on time," he said.

This extensive preparation is standard practice for Lockheed Martin, Fogel said. Based on experience, top officials have stressed the need for preprogram planning and built a database to house lessons learned and best practices, he said.

"Because we do so many of these, we capture lessons learned from other programs," Fogel said. "We noticed over a period of years that programs that had problems at start-up, some of the pre-award preparation wasn't as rigorous as it should have been."

CSC officials also created a collection of best practices from major programs, known as SureStart, which delineates a well-defined process from the proposal submission to the award, said Ben Gianni, CSC's vice president of homeland security. CSC's team, Freedom Alliance, is based

at two facilities in Rosslyn and Washington, D.C.

"We have started many, many programs — enough to know the start-up is essential," Gianni said. "It's a continuous improvement quality program."

Despite the extensive work leading up the May award announcement and DHS officials' desire for companies to be ready to hit the ground running, the three teams understand that flexibility is necessary. As they invest time and energy in potential solutions, officials understand they may need to make major changes once the team and DHS officials begin working together.

"The key is that all this stuff is contingent with whoever wins sitting down with DHS and making sure they are comfortable with this," Fogel said.

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