Let the Navy do its work

Is the DOD CIO office snatching failure from the jaws of success by advocating a test plan on top of the Navy's own plan?

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 calls for agencies to allow risk in managing programs and advocates the use of best practices. The Navy is doing just that in the Navy Marine Corps Intranet program, and NMCI should prove a model for chief information officers within the Defense Department.

But is it possible that the DOD CIO office is snatching failure from the jaws of success by advocating a test plan on top of the Navy's own plan?

Before we discuss testing, let's look at why the Navy and Marine Corps need to replace their existing networks. The Navy is frustrated by an aged and unstable network that has evolved over the years through piecemeal additions and the purchase of capability whenever the budget allowed. Not unlike other federal government networks, the Navy's patchwork design has resulted in a cumbersome, unreliable and insecure computing and communications environment.

Navy officials have wisely noted that as an enterprise, the Navy will never realize the promise of the Information Age without replacing its computing infrastructure with a single interoperable and secure network NMCI. Yet while the Navy tries to ensure that this program is well planned and resourced, others in their bureaucratic zeal to arrive at what they see as a 100 percent solution want to impose perfection at the expense of an overdue 90 percent solution today.

One of the zealous oversight tasks is certifying the testing plan. But withholding certification for NMCI unless it is significantly expanded and eliminates virtually all program risk seems excessive. It also runs counter to the intent of Clinger-Cohen.

An action ostensibly designed to reduce risk will, at a minimum, increase program risk and cost by stretching the schedule. Moreover, it will be that much longer before the Navy and Marines get to reap the benefits of increased efficiency, interoperability and security.

Exacerbating the situation, the House Armed Services Committee offered the Marine Corps an escape clause from NMCI and slashed the budget authorization. These actions won't put the program on the fast track.

Despite these actions by parties who claim they want NMCI to succeed, the Navy is leading the exact type of infrastructure replacement program that the rest of the military desperately needs. What's most disturbing is that NMCI will be a significant improvement over the current environment but is being continually undermined by nay.sayers, however well-intentioned. Some critics may have never successfully managed a major program, while others simply have a vested interest in maintaining the existing unprogressive environment.

Nevertheless, the Navy has drawn on numerous examples of best practices throughout industry and government to manage NMCI. It is time for some CIO offices and Congress to let go, let the Navy run the program and hold it accountable for results. Brubaker is president of e-government solutions at Commerce One Inc., a former deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department and an architect of the Clinger-Cohen Act.

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