N/MCI contract remains adrift

The Navy missed the Sept. 29 deadline it had set for awarding a $16 billion

intranet contract, but Navy officials said failure to finalize the contract

was of little consequence.

"We had hoped to get it done before end of fiscal year," said Lt. Cmdr.

Cate Mueller, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon. Now the Navy expects to

have a signed contract "in the near term," she said. However, information

technology industry officials have said the delay could last weeks.

The contract, which could become the largest federal computer services contract

ever, is for the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet project. The Navy plans to hire

a civilian company to own, maintain and update computers worldwide for the

Navy and Marine Corps.

But the N/MCI project has been delayed repeatedly because lawmakers have

balked over a number of issues, including how to pay for it. As September

waned, new roadblocks emerged.

Several lawmakers wanted to make sure that Naval depots and ports in their

congressional districts would not lose money and jobs as computer work shifts

from the Navy and Marine Corps to the contract winner.

In addition, the death of Rep. Herbert Bateman (R-Va.), chairman of the

House Military Readiness Subcommittee, on Sept. 11 forced the Navy to delay

its contract award plans. Bateman, who criticized Navy plans to pay for

the program, had called for a General Accounting Office analysis of it,

but Bateman died before he was able to meet with Navy officials to discuss

the GAO findings.

Failure of Congress to reach a budget deal by the end of the fiscal year

on Sept. 30 threw another obstacle into N/MCI, which would deploy a worldwide

network linking vessels and Navy and Marine bases and would be the largest

information technology program in the Defense Department.

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