Air Force won't follow NMCI lead

The Air Force has decided not to follow the Navy's model for desktop outsourcing on a grand scale, but service officials will sample bite-size versions of the massive Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract.

Although Gen. Patrick Gamble, commander of Air Forces Pacific, said in December that seat management is "all we talk about now" during meetings with his fellow four-star generals, the service is rejecting a servicewide procurement in part because it could compromise combat capabilities, according to Col. William Cooper, Air Force director of missions. "Seat management" is a catch phrase for outsourcing desktop computers and their related software, hardware, maintenance and help-desk support.

"We're not going to do an NMCI. We have not even come close to considering that," Cooper said during the 14th annual Federal Telecom conference in Washington, D.C., last month. "From our perspective, what the Navy did was to outsource what they do at fixed stations. The Navy doesn't fight from a fixed station; they fight from the fleet. The Air Force fights from fixed stations, and we rely too much on fixed stations to outsource it as a whole."

Cooper said Lt. Gen. John Woodward, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for communications and information, has concluded that NMCI makes sense for the Navy but not the Air Force. "He fully supports what the Navy is doing, but he doesn't believe the Air Force is going to be able to pull it off," Cooper said.

Although no Air Force-wide effort will take place, officials are considering seat management for two commands that don't deploy resources. Air Education and Training Command officials wanted to outsource their 50,000 desktops and related networks on 13 bases beginning in fiscal 2001, said Al Lee, who retired in November as a lieutenant colonel. Lee directed a two-year effort to examine seat management based on the Clinger-Cohen Act, which lays out information technology practices as a guide for agencies. But funding proved a problem after Air Force officials didn't support AETC's plans.

"Let's get to the real issue: The network as a part of your infrastructure is crumbling" because of personnel turnover, training shortcomings and lack of skill among service personnel, Lee said. Using the same strategy that several civilian agencies have employed, the Air Force Materiel Command is performing a proof of concept under the General Services Administration Seat Management contract. The analysis covers more than 220 special operations workers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. If the command exercises options under the contract, it might expand the program to 24,000 users.

"I've always liked the Air Force Materiel Command's approach to seat management," said Chip Mather, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc. "During a proof of concept, you have to make sure you have a large enough sample. What scares me the most about the Navy is the size of it"—360,000 users.

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