House calls on DOD to halt SPS rollout

Concerned about the viability of a $326 million automated procurement program, Congress has called on the Defense Department to suspend deployment of any additional hardware, software and networking equipment needed to run the system.

Buried deep in the House report on the fiscal 2000 Defense Appropriations Bill, passed this month, the language targets the Defense Department's Standard Procurement System - a linchpin system in DOD's overall plan to create a paperless contracting environment by Jan. 1.

"The [Appropriations] Committee is concerned about the ability of the Standard Procurement System to meet the requirements of its users," the report stated. "The committee recommends that the chief information officer delay the fielding of the infrastructure for this system until it confirms that the software release Version 5.0 satisfies [user] requirements and until there is resolution on the appropriateness of the Defense Logistics Agency's contracting strategy."

A DOD spokesman said the department pledges to "work with the committee to determine the intent of the language and try to comply with that intent."

American Management Systems Inc. won the SPS contract in 1997 and based the development of SPS on a version of its commercial Procurement Desktop software that was modified to serve the DOD contracting community.

SPS is intended to automate the often tedious and complicated process that DOD procurement shops must use to buy items ranging from bullets to bandages. DOD plans to deploy the system to 44,000 users at 860 locations worldwide.

Although early versions of SPS have had many detractors, Elliott Branch, the Navy's executive director of acquisition and business management, recently concluded that after extensive tests of Version 4.1a, the software "is ready for deployment to Navy sites." In January, Branch had stopped installation of SPS at Navy installations worldwide because of what he termed "show-stopper" software glitches. But in a memo Branch sent to the SPS Navy program manager in May, he referred to the software as stable and its performance as "accurate, predictable and repeatable."

The current release of SPS software is Version 4.1b, which program officials said corrects many defects found by users in the field and offers improvements over previous releases of the software. However, the most complex contracting requirements identified by SPS are not supported by the software and will not be integrated until the release of Version 5.0, scheduled for 2003.

"We have seen the language [in the bill] and are concerned that it appears to be based on outdated information," said a spokesman for the SPS program office at the Defense Logistics Agency. "We will meet with key House Appropriations Committee staffers to provide the most current information on program progress, [and] we are confident that, once provided the current situation and results to date, the committee will agree that the program is moving in the right direction."

Al Rogers, vice president at AMS, said the language in the Defense Appropriations bill appears to be based on "old information" and that the latest version of SPS, now deployed at more than 300 sites and supporting more than 13,000 users, is being "well received" by users in the field. Rogers also said that the report's reference to SPS infrastructure was ambiguous.

"[Congress] really needs to get an overall perspective on the program," Rogers said. "They may be drawing some conclusions without the full set of information," Rogers said, adding that the briefings being scheduled by DLA should go a long way toward addressing the problem.

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