Air Force readies outsourcing plans

After two years of studies, the Air Force will outsource routine information technology equipment and operations at its U.S. bases, senior service IT executives said.

Having watched the Navy take knocks for its Navy Marine Corps Intranet, John Gilligan, the Air Force's chief information officer, said officials believe contracting for commercial hardware, software and services will help overcome the 30,000-person shortfall in the service's warfighting mission area.

"My objective is to redeploy our critical IT skills against the warfighting mission and to take the things that industry does well, like run a network, and say, 'We'll give you a performance-based contract and you can support us,' " he said.

Air Force IT outsourcing first publicly appeared in the fiscal 2002 Defense appropriations bill, which instructed the service to conduct a study analyzing the available options and provide lawmakers with recommendations, including any lessons learned from NMCI.

Air Force officials submitted that report to Congress last summer, Gilligan said. The service has started another study, which it will complete next year, to determine what equipment and operations it will outsource, what contracting mechanism it will use, how much money the initiative will cost and when the service will start it, he said

The goal is to outsource back-end IT operations so key personnel can focus on the Air Force's warfare mission, Gilligan said.

"We need to take the IT people we've been training and redeploy them to our growing IT warfighting mission so we don't have to take pilots and tell them they have to be IT experts," he said.

The Air Force's IT outsourcing strategy makes sense considering the Defense Department's transformation initiative, said Michael Kush, Army account executive in Cap Gemini Ernst and Young's Government Solutions division in Falls Church, Va., and chairman of the Government Electronics and IT Association's 2003 Vision Conference held Oct. 28-30 in Washington, D.C.

"It's really about asking what can be done to achieve some cost savings and get more folks at the pointed end of the spear," said Kush, a retired Army colonel.

DOD's transformation includes moving people to its primary warfighting mission, Kush said. The far-reaching initiative and the war on terrorism caused the department and the services to re-examine their budgets, and one way to streamline people and money is to let industry do what it does well, such as administer networks, he said.

Unlike the Navy's strategy with NMCI, the Air Force initially will not award a single large contract, Gilligan said. In 2000, the Navy awarded the $8.8 billion NMCI to EDS.

The Air Force's initiative likely will involve desktop computers and management of core IT services, including e-mail, print and Web, file and networks, he said.

Air Force executives say the service already has started the tasks of consolidating hardware and software applications by centrally defining its IT architectures and processes. That approach will help the service avoid the cultural and implementation problems that plagued NMCI, Gilligan said.

The nine major Air Force commands each have Microsoft Corp. license agreements, but the service's new IT Commodity Council has issued standard configurations, he said.

"We think in hindsight it was a pretty good strategy because we didn't have some of the friction with a contractor coming in," Gilligan said. "This was under our control. We got past the culture issues."

The Air Force has been focusing on consolidating its servers and has completed 75 percent of its consolidation efforts. It will reach 95 percent by the end of the year, Gilligan said. The service needs fiscal 2004 funding to purchase common computer hardware and software to reach the latter goal, he said.

These efforts could make the Air Force ready for IT outsourcing in late 2004 or 2005.

"Those who have gone through similar consolidation activities, their consistent comment was, 'Your biggest challenge is culture not technology,' " Gilligan said. "So we think we addressed that well."

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