NISMC chief speeds technology to the fleet

"The folks in the rear often don't send the right gear" is a complaint Rear Adm. James Davidson, commander of the Naval Information Systems Management Center (NISMC), has grown accustomed to in his decades-long career in the Naval Aviation Supply Corps.

But thanks to input from his daughter, an Air Force pilot, Davidson has developed a unique insight into the necessity for meshing requirements directly with user needs—in his daughter's case, the need for an improved cockpit headset and the inability of "the system" to expeditiously meet this requirement.

As head of the Navy's central computer acquisition activity, Davidson is working to translate what he has learned from his daughter into policies and programs that will pay off for Marines in the field and sailors at sea. He has found that getting up close and personal pays off in making NISMC—and the Navy as a whole—more aware of computer requirements in the field.

On a recent visit to his hometown of Ontario, Calif., to talk to high school students, Davidson dropped into the local Navy recruiting office and was "shocked" to discover that the recruiting office lacked computers. That's not exactly the best way to send a message to potential recruits "that we have a high-tech Navy," he said. Returning to his Crystal City, Va., office, he worked to ensure that computers did make their way to recruiters—quickly.

On another field trip to the USS Saipan, an amphibious helicopter carrier home-ported in Norfolk, Va., but due for deployment to the Adriatic Sea, Davidson received a first-hand lesson in the need to speed up the Navy's standard indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) PC contracts. "The Marine [command center] on the Saipan only has [Zenith Data Systems] Z-248s.... We need to get the ships better outfitted, and we're working closely with the fleet."

Contracts such as the recently awarded New Technology for Office and Portable Systems, now under protest, and the upcoming $400 million-plus Navdesk PC procurement will go a long way toward updating afloat and ashore computers, Davidson said. "We're putting out a series of IDIQs to capture commercial technology better," Davidson said. "And it's the right stuff. Our pricing is good—10 to 40 percent better than [General Services Administration] schedules, and we can do it a lot faster."

The Navy IDIQ program has already paid off well, Davidson said, with the ongoing series of Tactical Advanced Computer workstation buys, including the TAC-4 contract held by Hewlett-Packard Co. "We're using TAC-4 to put [commercial off-the-shelf] gear into weapons systems," he said.

Besides seeding the fleet with up-to-date PCs and workstations, Davidson has also made upgrading the Navy's Local-Area Network/Wide-Area Network (LAN/WAN) infrastructure a priority. This includes developing and installing standard LANs to serve all Navy users within 65 miles of the Pentagon, a program he then wants to roll out worldwide. This project includes large, high-speed networks, including the Hawaii Information Transfer System, a Defense Information Systems Agency program for which the Navy serves as executive agent.

These LANs are needed to support a number of uses, including electronic mail, that will be carried by the Defense Message System. Davidson is an avid user of e-mail and believes that it is a system that users from the lowest-ranking sailor to the highest-ranking admiral need to master.

One of the things Davidson would like to do right is drive a car in—and win—the Indianapolis 500. Because he can't do that, Davidson takes pleasure in watching stock car and Indy car races on TV. He has not dabbled in the golf matches that seems almost a requirement for those wearing stars, opting instead for tennis as his sport of choice.

Considering the relatively few slots for further promotion in the Supply Corps, Davidson candidly admits that at NISMC he has "close to a terminal job." But before he leaves, he would like to institute one key program that he believes would go far in making the Navy as a whole computer-literate.

"I want to start a program in boot camp called the PC Pilot's License," Davidson said. It's not enough for boots who serve in the modern Navy to know how to scrub their clothes by hand or tie knots. They also need to know how to handle the ubiquitous computer tools of the fleet, and the PC Pilot's License would ensure that every boot has some knowledge of PCs upon graduation.

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