Army, Congress at odds over WLMP

The Army and Congress remain at loggerheads on the service's $1 billion project to outsource key portions of the Wholesale Logistics Modernization Program (WLMP), with Capitol Hill vowing to stop the program and the Army planning to proceed.

A high-level Army delegation led by Gen. Johnnie Wilson, commander of the Army Materiel Command (AMC), trooped to the Hill last week following the House National Security Committee's decision to insert language into the fiscal 1999 DOD authorization bill that effectively precludes the Army from privatizing software design activities in St. Louis and Chambersburg, Pa., that support legacy Army logistics systems.

Despite efforts to find a common ground on WLMP, the committee stuck to its position, with a spokesman saying he anticipated the restrictive language to become law after a House/Senate conference later this summer.

David Mills, principal deputy for logistics at AMC, said his command ''does not plan to cancel the procurement, but there is a possibility of delay'' until the Army Audit Agency completes a study on outsourcing that was requested by Rep. Herbert Bateman (R-Va.), a member of the committee.

Industry sources said Bateman, who wrote a letter to the Army opposing WLMP, is the most visible of the congressional opposition, which includes House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), who represents the St. Louis Army workers, and Rep. Norman Sisisky (D-Va.). Bateman and Sisisky represent districts in the Tidewater, Va., area, home of Fort Lee, which houses an Army retail logistics operation that is potentially up for outsourcing in the wake of WLMP.

Mills said the Army Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom), which is managing WLMP, has temporarily delayed the release of the final request for proposals for the project, which has attracted interest from a wide field of integrators, until the audit is completed and Bateman has a chance to study the results.

Mills said that if the House continues to stick with its language after receiving the audit report, Cecom could not issue a final RFP.

This would leave the Army and AMC ''between a rock and a hard place," Mills said, ''because we've been told to eliminate 8,650 positions over the next five years to comply with the Quadrennial Defense Review.'' Sharply lower Defense budgets have also forced AMC to cut payrolls and find a new way of doing business, but the command has run up against what Mills characterized as a ''not-in-my-district argument.''

Emmett Paige Jr., former assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence and now the president and chief operating officer of OAO Corp., last week defended the Army's innovative approach to logistics modernization, which he said makes good business sense.

"No major redirection or overhaul is needed here. Some fine-tuning, however, may be [needed]." The Bateman letter is ''primarily about protecting jobs," Paige said.

Also last week, the leaders of two industry organizations, the Information Technology Association of America and the Professional Services Council, proposed the creation of an industry coalition to lobby Congress for support of outsourcing and privatization.

A meeting of interested companies is expected to take place within the next two weeks.

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