DOD buried under

Software problems have delayed the full-scale deployment of a computer system that the Pentagon plans to use to buy everything from staples to submarines in an electronic, paperless environment - an initiative that top Defense Department officials want functional by January 2000.

The $326 million Standard Procurement System, which DOD envisions procurement officers using to manage the process of writing, awarding and managing contracts electronically, has been plagued by problems ranging from printing to generating simple updates of electronic documents.

SPS is designed to automate the often laborious steps that a DOD procurement shop needs to go through to issue a solicitation based on the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations. DOD plans to deploy the system to 44,000 users at 860 locations worldwide.

SPS is designed to help DOD move to a totally paperless contracting environment by Jan. 1, 2000, a target publicly and repeatedly backed by John Hamre, deputy secretary of Defense.

American Management Systems Inc., which won the SPS contract in 1997, developed the system around a version of its commercial Procurement Desktop software, modified to serve the DOD contracting community.

Complaints From the Field

A database of user comments on the SPS World Wide Web site lists hundreds of concerns with the system, including problems printing all the lines on a page, difficulty adding a contract line item to an award and inconsistent contract-clause generation. For example, in one case SPS generated different contract clauses when two people entered the same contract information into the system, according to the Navy.

Also, a 1998 report from DOD's Office of Test and Evaluation found vulnerabilities in the system's security. "Security deficiencies allowed unauthorized users to access and alter solicitation and contract documents," according to the report.

Elliott Branch, the Navy's proj-ect officer for business-related systems, confirmed that the current version of SPS, known as Version 4.1, which the Defense Logistics Agency and AMS released this year, cannot support basic documents of major acquisitions, such as requests for proposals.

However, DOD maintains that SPS does support RFPs.

Branch was so concerned with the SPS Version 4.1 problems in January that he halted installation of the version at all Navy and Marine Corps sites. In a memo sent to DLA, Branch said the Navy had concluded that SPS "has significant difficulties delivering the stated functionality in a reliable manner."

In the memo, Branch cited software problems that included:

* Extensive workarounds, creating an inefficient working environment as well as substantial training problems.

* Unpredictable and erratic performance in a multiuser operational environment.

* An AMS-furnished automated tool that was needed to install the upgraded version resulted in a catastrophic loss of transaction history.

Branch called inconsistencies in the system and the inability to easily upgrade the software "show-stoppers."

Nonetheless, Branch, who pronounced himself satisfied with the DLA and AMS response to his memo, said the Navy is testing the newest SPS software release. "When we think the time is appropriate, we will turn it back on," he said. "We intend to fully go forward with it."

While the Navy cannot use SPS "to buy a new attack submarine" yet, Branch said the system can support what he called simple contracting at Navy bases or Marine camps, both of which support the bulk of Navy contract transactions.

Gary Thurston, the SPS program manager at DLA, said a major challenge that DOD faces with SPS is bringing procurement shops in all four military services onto a common procurement system that in some cases operates differently than the older legacy systems. For example, some users are accustomed to printing a back page to a contract, which SPS does not do.

Software problems have delayed delivery of the final software version of SPS, which originally was scheduled for February 1999. DOD also has delayed complete installation of SPS across the military services and the Defense agencies from its original target date of 2001, Thurston said. He said DLA will know by the end of the summer the new schedule to complete the full rollout of SPS and its additional costs.

As it exists now, Thurston said SPS suits the needs of smaller contracting shops but not those shops that write more complex contracts. However, services that do not have SPS by the 2000 deadline can modify their legacy systems to meet the paperless goals, Thurston said.

SPS software eventually will meet users' needs, Thurston predicted. "Not a lot of users understand the incremental nature of the [software development process]," he said.

At the direction of DOD, AMS officials declined to answer any questions from FCW.

Problems with SPS may force Army contracting organizations to seek alternatives as the paperless-contracting deadline approaches, service officials said recently.

Kevin Carroll, program executive officer for standard Army management information systems, said the Army has "put a hold in fielding SPS" to some sites. "We don't know when we will get SPS out there. It's back to the drawing board on when to get SPS out there."

Despite these concerns, Carroll said SPS is "a key solution that would bring paperless contracting to DOD."

The Air Force also identified deficiencies in its test of SPS last November but is now "aggressively moving" to deploy the system, according to a statement. "We are not looking at other options," the statement noted.

SPS has proven to be a challenge, said Michael Mestrovich, president of Unlimited New Dimensions LLC and a former DOD electronic commerce executive. Some DOD users have decided "that there may be quicker paths to achieving their paperless-contracting goals and objectives than the one SPS is following," he said.

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SPS FUNCTIONS

* Define requirements* Draft solicitations* Create amendments* Evaluate bids* Make awards* Handle post-award management* Track task orders* Track contract performance and deliveries

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