Army IT squeezed by Iraq war efforts

The war in Iraq demonstrated successful use of information technology to fight a war, but the ongoing occupation is proving to be costly — causing the Army to shift money away from IT to pay for the peacekeeping efforts, service and industry officials said.

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. As the conflict continues, it is proving costly to Army IT systems. During the past six months, Army IT executives delayed a key IT program and shifted money from another because of the war in Iraq, officials said.

Analysts describe moving money from military IT budgets to war funds as typical.

"Expenses during war or major unplanned operations are often paid out of the operations and maintenance budget, and consequently some discretionary projects suffer," said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of consulting at Federal Sources Inc., an IT consulting firm in McLean, Va.

IT programs got delayed last year for the same reason, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. "Important but more typical projects often get sacrificed as money is redirected elsewhere," Allen said.

The shift in funds is forcing Army officials to rethink their IT priorities.

Army IT leaders decided not to seek full funding for the service's network consolidation initiative in the fiscal 2005 budget, but instead decided to go after those funds in fiscal 2006, said Kevin Carroll, program executive officer in the Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems.

To keep the effort on track, officials with PEO-EIS and the service's chief information officer are shifting IT funds from other programs and asking regional IT directorates to pitch in. They plan to move

$25 million that will come from the Army's Installation Information Infrastructure Modernization Program, and officials hope that that the service's regional IT directorates will match that amount, Carroll said.

Vendors also contend that money issues postponed the use of the Army's new performance-based contract for network security projects.

The war in Iraq also caused Army officials to delay planned network security projects using the service's new Information Technology Enterprise Solutions contract, said an industry official who requested anonymity. The vendor works for a company that received one of the nine ITES equipment and support services contracts last fall.

Carroll disagreed with the official's notion that budgetary constraints related to the war in Iraq caused the three-month delay in announcing the first ITES task order. He said PEO-EIS officials wanted to ensure that the $1 billion, no-fee contract works as advertised. The performance-based contract is designed to have the customer describe the problem they are trying to solve, and then have vendors submit ideas. Agencies can then select the best one, considering both the solution and cost.

Steve Miller, ITES product leader, and Barbara Trujillo, an IT E-Commerce and Commercial Contracting Center officer, agreed with Carroll that the Army took extra time to include meeting with the winning vendors to ensure that they understand their ITES obligations.

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