Navy restricts IT buys

Beginning this month, Navy Department contracting chiefs must assess and

pass along to senior officials any waivers for information technology buys

that fall outside the Navy's massive intranet program.

H. Lee Buchanan, the assistant Navy secretary for research, development

and acquisition, issued a memo Oct. 19 requiring that all Navy contracting

officers receive permission before buying a technology product or service

from a contract other than the Navy Marine Corps Intra-net contract if that

product or service is offered under NMCI. The order covers all IT buys

worth more than $25,000.

Under the NMCI contract, which was awarded to Electronic Data Systems

Corp. last month for $6.9 billion, multiple Navy and Marine Corps short-based

networks worldwide will be linked together in an effort to create a seamless

global intranet.

The list of products affected by the order includes deliveries from

pre-awarded governmentwide contracts as well as individual contracts. The

order covers data and video products and services but not voice services

because NMCI won't offer those until 2003. And it does not affect systems

for mission-critical areas such as cryptology.

"We want to track to an infinite degree our IT spending," said Lt. Jane

Alexander, a Navy spokeswoman.

Buchanan called for contracting officers to conduct reviews before awarding

contracts — or even before issuing vendor solicitations — "to avoid the

potential for duplication of expenditures" for NMCI capabilities.

Buchanan limited the delegation of authority for conducting the reviews

to the flag and senior executive service levels. The heads of contracting

offices also need to determine whether computing products or services purchased

before NMCI is installed at their offices are "essential to successful

execution of a command or program initiative," Buchanan wrote. An organization

can purchase IT services that cover a period that will expire before the

organization starts using NMCI.

The directive also shows that department officials are not going to

relax the mandatory nature of the NMCI contract.

"I don't see this as being a big problem," said Harold Hanson, executive

director for contracts at Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, which

will start rolling out NMCI within the next six months. "I can't imagine

that people are going to be buying NMCI-like services except through that

contract."

Contracting officers in organizations that won't deploy NMCI until later

may have difficulty forecasting future IT purchases, but "we'll just have

to deal with it" if it's a legitimate purchase request, Hanson said.

"Given what they're trying to do with that contract, they are absolutely

going to have to get control over who's purchasing what," said Chip Mather,

a senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc. of Chantilly, Va.

"But there has to be an alternative [way] of getting people machines today."

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