More at risk than dollars
It would be a mistake to think that this month's award of the Navy Marine
Corps Intranet contract signals the successful end to a politically charged
and controversial information technology discussion. In fact, it has just
What's at stake is much more than NMCI's nearly $7 billion price tag.
Nothing less than the future of federal IT outsourcing depends on the success
of the program.
Under the NMCI pact, prime contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp.
will take over the ownership and operation of the IT hardware, software
and services that will make up the new intranet — ultimately a 350,000-seat
network that will tie together a disparate set of networks on bases and
on ships at sea. The program is a central component to the Navy's "network-centric"
warfare strategy, which relies on computers to help fight future battles.
Top Pentagon officials use the word "revolutionary" to describe the
Navy's and Marine Corps' willingness to turn over systems to a commercial
vendor. It is a revolution that the Navy and EDS must win. Outsourcing federal
networks, called seat management, must become a common practice if agencies
want to meet the IT demands of the future. With estimates projecting that
the federal government will lose half of its IT workforce in the next five
years, outsourcing will be one of the pivotal ways to get all the government's
IT work done.
A failure with NMCI — measured by large budget overruns, delays and
systems that don't work well or don't meet the Navy's needs — could set
seat management, and outsourcing in general, back a few years. Some may
never try it.
NMCI is a huge project, and some miscues can be expected. But the Navy
and EDS should be sobered by the fact that not only is national defense
riding on the success of the project, but maybe even the move toward outsourcing
more government IT work. The immense proj-ect calls for realistic goals
along with the expectation that the Navy, EDS and Congress will give it
the priority and support it deserves.