NMCI in Norfolk: So far so good

Breaking what he considered a high-level silence on the $6.9 billion Navy Marine Corps Intranet program, the four-star admiral in charge of the Atlantic Fleet late last month issued a statement supporting the Navy Department's voice, video and data outsourcing initiative.

Adm. Robert Natter took the unusual step of visiting contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s headquarters in Plano, Texas, in part to show support for NMCI. Natter said it "never occurred"to him that it could be interpreted as a sign that NMCI is in trouble on Capitol Hill or in the Navy.

EDS recently assumed responsibility for the network support and computing equipment used by the Atlantic Fleet's 700 headquarters personnel in Norfolk, Va. The deployment of the shore-based NMCI for the Atlantic Fleet will continue until 2003.

The two main benefits of NMCI, in Natter's view, are that it enables the service to keep up with industry's use of technology and it reduces the number of service personnel required to support computer systems. "We ought to be able to get some benefits from doing it together,"as opposed to different Navy organizations signing their own outsourcing agreements, he said.

"We've kind of laid our reputation on the line,"Natter said of EDS and the Navy, adding that the "No. 1"reason NMCI will succeed is "I'm gonna be following it."

Such a remark wasn't surprising coming from a man who prided himself on his vigilance over Year 2000 remediation work when he served as the service's director of space, information warfare, command and control in 1998 to 1999. "We succeeded there,"he said.

"We ought to be riding on industry's coattails,"Natter said. When the Navy doesn't use best business practices and technology, service can suffer. When Naval Academy officials kept an analog phone system used since 1976 alive until 1994, for example, the academy had to have telephone attendants connect incoming phone calls, which led to occasional errors, he said.

EDS is making employment offers to outsourced Naval civilian employees and signing subcontracting agreements with base-level vendors, Natter said. "I'm aware of some of the concerns," he said. "There's always reticence to change."

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