Revision calls for Windows NT, COTS hardware

The National Guard Bureau (NGB) last week announced details for a new architecture for the Reserve Component Automation System that swaps out Unix-based X-terminals in favor of PCs running Microsoft Corp. Windows NT software and other commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components.

RCAS, originally awarded in 1991 to Boeing Information Services, is designed to build an automation infrastructure throughout the nation's 10,000 Army National Guard and Reserve centers, covering more than 56,000 desktops. The project was halted last year in the face of mounting costs and schedule overruns.

Under the new plan, executed as a contract modification, RCAS will be based on more widely available COTS hardware and software, including Pentium-based Compaq Computer Corp. DeskPro workstations and Microsoft Windows-based office automation software. The NGB, meanwhile, has dropped such costly requirements as Multi-Level Security (MLS) and the Ada programming language.

With the new COTS-based architecture, "we have a better chance now of providing the functionality the user wanted than under the old system," said Col. Sammy J. Cowden, NGB's RCAS program manager.

Deployment of RCAS will resume this summer following completion of a Major Automated Information System Review Council Milestone IIIa review, the agency said.

Boeing could not be reached for comment.

IDIQ Shift

The NGB expects the new plan to cost about $770 million over a one-year base period and six one-year options. The NGB has spent $638 million on RCAS to date.

RCAS was originally expected to cost about $1.6 billion. Boeing reportedly was running about 30 months behind schedule when NGB began looking for ways to salvage the program last year.

The NGB has modified the structure and content of RCAS to reduce cost and delivery time.

In keeping with the COTS orientation, NGB has made RCAS an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. The agency now has the right to buy standard equipment off other contracts if it can get a better price than RCAS offers, Cowden said. "It's just a way of keeping the price competition going," he said.

"That's a reasonable threat to hold over a company" and a benefit of using COTS, said Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va.

However, "once they do that, they substantially reduce the single point of responsibility," Dornan said. "That's why they usually hire these integrators in the first place."

Also, congressional legislation passed last year freed Boeing to take advantage of existing networks and other government-furnished equipment, the NGB said. This means Boeing will be able to integrate existing infrastructure into the RCAS system rather than building it all from scratch.

In another bid to save time and money, the NGB has asked Boeing to use a rapid applications development approach in creating RCAS applications. That approach will rely on commercial programming languages rather than Ada, which the contract had originally specified. Boeing and the agency will choose a language on a case-by-case environment.

Boeing's work on an Ada-based human resources application has been shelved, with the contractor now expected to develop a logistics application first, sometime in 1997.

Additional savings will come from the agency's decision to drop the costly MLS specifications. NGB dropped MLS because those specifications were required by only one to two percent of RCAS' data traffic, Cowden said. Instead, Boeing will provide Z-Station VP workstations from Zenith Data Systems to handle classified processing.

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