Interior kills ALMRS

After spending more than $400 million, the Bureau of Land Management has killed a long-running modernization program because of ongoing problems, delays and a fast-approaching deadline for resolving its Year 2000 computer problem.

Interior Department officials decided in January to allow the Automated Land and Mineral Record System contract with prime contractor Computer Sciences Corp. to expire. ALMRS was intended to replace paper-based processes and aging agency systems running on mainframes that are not Year 2000-compliant.

When BLM awarded the potential 10-year, $400 million ALMRS contract in 1993, the system was expected to replace its cumbersome paper-based process and provide detailed electronic information to manage the federal government's 260 million acres of land nationwide and the mineral resources on another 300 million acres the agency manages and leases to private-sector enterprises. Ultimately, the system would have let BLM case workers at almost 200 offices view text-based documents alongside electronic maps on their screens. The new system would have speeded up such processes as tracking oil, gas and mineral leases and lease applications as well as timber and land sales. ALMRS would have replaced many decaying and fading paper documents, some of which date back to the 1700s.

But BLM's progress on ALMRS, created in the pre-procurement reform era of government-specific requirements, was slower and more costly than expected. During its 15 years of development, ALMRS' cost increased hundreds of millions of dollars over its original estimate of $240 million. Moreover, technology planned and developed especially for ALMRS when the project began in 1983 was overtaken by more advanced and less costly commercial off-the-shelf products.

ALMRS also had many failures. When BLM tested the initial operating capability in October 1998, users reported several problems. For example, the system was too complex and actually impeded productivity. In one case, a worker spent an hour

processing a $10 transaction that should have taken only about 10 minutes, Joel Willemssen, the General Accounting Office's director for civil agencies information systems, told the House Appropriations Committee's Interior Subcommittee last month. Willemssen said the agency spent more than 15 years and $411 million developing the system, "only to have the major software component - known as the ALMRS Initial Operating Capability - fail."

"ALMRS didn't have the functionality that users were looking for," David Gill, GAO's assistant director for civil agencies information systems, told FCW last week. "I think that what happened here is that the requirements may have gone stale over time.... They were using a technology that really has been eclipsed by the windows technology of today."

"We concluded that as a result of that test, the system as it was then did not support our business needs sufficiently enough to deploy it," said Gayle Gordon, assistant director for information resources management at BLM. "We were developing a typical grand-design system using the old technologies."

Leslie Cone, program manager for BLM's National Integrated Land System (NILS) project, said the agency tried "to implement too much all at one time and do everything rather than a modular approach. We've moved away from trying to do things like build custom code. Now we're trying to leverage COTS."

A CSC spokesman last week said, "It's unfortunate that the Department of the Interior's BLM has allowed the ALMRS contract to expire. The bottom line is that we would have liked to have continued working with them."

In the wake of the decision to let the contract expire, CSC last month closed the ALMRS development operation in Golden, Colo., and BLM moved its key legacy software applications residing on its mainframes to a more modern networked computer environment called Legacy Rehost 2000 (LR 2000). This month - the sixth anniversary of the ALMRS award to CSC - BLM officials are tying up loose ends on the program and are focusing their attention on LR 2000, which became operational for some BLM offices last week.

Cone said the move to LR 2000 solves the agency's Year 2000 problem but still does not create the functionality that had been envisioned under ALMRS. "LR 2000 now becomes the legacy system," she said. "[The applications] are just on a new platform, which still doesn't give BLM what it wants.

"What we're trying to do now is do things modular," Cone said. "BLM is looking at all our land and resource information systems to see what we can do."

For example, the agency is developing the NILS project in partnership with the Forest Service, Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. and some counties. NILS will create electronic mapping applications that may one day be combined with other applications to build in a modular fashion a comprehensive system like the one that had been envisioned under the ALMRS contract.

Some Interior IT employees said agency officials should have seen the problems that would come with the ALMRS proj-ect. "By the time they got to deployment, they discovered things that, as far as I'm concerned, they should have known five years ago," an Interior employee familiar with the project said.

Members of Congress and BLM officials are trying to find some benefits from spending the hundreds of millions of dollars on ALMRS. "This is the kind of thing that, granted, the water is over the dam, but we have got to learn from the mistakes of the past," said Rep. Jim Moran (R-Va.). "No question that this was a mistake to spend this much money as was spent, but it was not a mistake conceptually to try to automate the information that BLM executives need at their fingertips."

Gordon said money spent on ALMRS did not all go to waste, even though a final successful ALMRS software product did not emerge. She said money spent on the ALMRS project over the years has given the agency an information infrastructure that it can use for current and future information projects. "It's given us a foundation," she said. According to a General Accounting Office survey, about $67.5 million of the money was spent on developing the failed ALMRS software.

Cone said ALMRS provided computer training to BLM employees. "BLM now has a computer-literate work force, which we didn't in the past," she said. "We have a telecommunications network that we didn't have."

She added that ALMRS also helped BLM document its business rules and transform much of its paper-based data into electronic form.

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