Navy wants to be the decider

With its follow-on contract for NMCI, the Navy plans to take the lead on key decisions

The Department of the Navy intends to take back much of the decision-making authority from the prime contractor of its $9.9 billion Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract.

Navy officials say the network has become a major command-and-control component and is embedded in almost everything the service does. EDS, the prime contractor for NMCI, owns the network infrastructure, but the Navy has the option to buy that infrastructure.

Although the original NMCI contract ends in a year and a half, the Navy is developing a new contract that officials say is likely to outsource less work. Under that contract, Defense Department personnel would take over some of the functions contractors perform.

“You would imagine the person making network decisions at the very heartbeat of the network would be something that government would want to control,” said Robert Carey, the Navy’s chief information officer. Those kinds of changes could happen at the network operating centers at San Diego; Quantico, Va.; and Norfolk, Va. Government workers are in those centers, but the key decision-makers are EDS employees.

Officials in the Bush administration and Congress have major concerns with contractors coming too close to performing inherently governmental functions, which only a federal employee should handle.

The decision-making responsibilities could be shifted to a Naval command, a civilian executive or some combination of the two. The planning for that type of change is not complete, Carey said.

“That doesn’t mean there won’t be a contract,” Carey said. “It means there will be a large contract, but there will be operational control decisions managed by the government. Today, some of those decisions are managed by the EDS team on behalf of government per the contract.”

Making fundamental changes is typical both in government and business when it comes to the second generation of initiatives as complex as NMCI, said Lorrie Scardino, an analyst at Gartner.

“When an organization undertakes an initiative as big as NMCI, there are so many moving parts that need to be considered, and I think even the best organizations in the world don’t adequately consider all those moving pieces,” Scardino said.

The Navy is a Gartner client, so Scardino couldn’t talk specifically about NMCI’s hurdles, but she said organizations often run into trouble if there isn’t a total buy-in for the plan across the entire organization.

When a major project reaches a new phase — as NMCI soon will — the organization managing it should “step back and take a look at what worked and what didn’t work,” she said. “They should look at mistakes and lessons learned from their own experience.”

Organizations often find that fixing problems is more complex than simply reversing some decisions.

“Organizations sometimes say, ‘OK, we had this problem so let’s go in the other direction,’” she said. “If you do not look at the systemic issues from the first generation, you’re only going to end up with a new crop of problems.”

“This was a very, very ambitious transformation program, probably more ambitious than any of the original architects comprehended,” said Doug Davis, EDS’ vice president and account executive for NMCI.  “So, not surprisingly, some of the early execution wasn’t as well thought out by any of us for a variety of reasons.”

Getting NMCI off the ground during its deployment stage — from about 2003 to 2006 — was the most difficult part. The operational phase of the project started during the deployment phase in 2005, Davis said. During that overlap, EDS learned that adding capabilities during a deployment phase is significantly different than adding them during an operational phase.

Anoth er issue EDS and the Navy had to grapple with was the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Before the attacks, security was only one part of NMCI. After Sept. 11, security of the network and the data that rides on that network became the focus of the program.  

“So what was originally envisioned was dramatically reprioritized based on 9/11,” Davis said. “Security became the focus and it remains the No. 1 focus of everything that we do.”

Focusing on security comes at a cost, which is not just financial; it also affects the responsiveness and flexibility of the network. Finding a balance between security and functionality will continue to be a part of the contract that replaces NMCI.

When the NMCI contract ends on Sept. 30, 2010, the network will continue serving half a million Navy personnel, both military and civilian.

“The NMCI services are essential to the execution of our mission,” Carey said. The network covers the United States and Okinawa, Japan. It doesn’t reach to ships or Europe.

“Therefore our expectations are that until we are on to a follow-on contract — the Next Generation Enterprise Network — that NMCI will continue to provide services,” he said.

Eventually, Navy officials plan to move to the Next Generation Enterprise Network, or NGEN, from NMCI. For now, the priority set by the secretary of the Navy is to ensure all the department’s users remain connected to the network the day NMCI expires.

“For something this size, we are not flipping a switch on Oct. 1, 2010. It is not possible,” Carey said. “So we’re doing all the design efforts that we can, and all the management and planning efforts that we can, to ensure that on Oct. 1 everyone that’s connected today remains connected to his or her information.”

If network-centric warfare is ever going to become a reality, the new contract needs to build IT systems in a new way, he said. The new model should try to combine the speed and innovation that can be done in-house with the quality control provided by requirements-based acquisitions.

NMCI established a model of slow, steady improvement, which will continue under the new contract, Carey said.

“NMCI is improving every day,” he said. “So imagine that the NGEN capability will pick up where NMCI left off, and continue to move forward logically and consistent with the resources we can apply toward it to provide information technology services to the warfighters.”

Carey expects the number of users on NMCI to remain about the same in the near future. Industry partners that want to participate in the new contract should know that the population on NMCI isn’t going to change much, he said.  

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