Give NMCI a chance

State and local governments have been called the laboratories for testing new ways of conducting government business from which the federal government can learn. Out of San Diego County comes a lesson for the U.S. Navy in its effort to build the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, a contract to outsource information technology to tie the naval services into a seamless network.

In December 1999, San Diego County awarded a contract to Computer Sciences Corp. to outsource its entire information and telecommunications systems. In an assessment this month of how the contract has worked so far, Tom Boardman, chief technology officer for San Diego County, said the county has had some successes and some problems. Boardman, who was speaking at the Government CIO Summit, a conference run by Federal Computer Week's parent company, FCW Media Group Inc., said one of the most important things for government leaders to keep in mind when outsourcing IT is that the service levels an organization has come to expect will inevitably decline in the first few months of the deal. But over time, Boardman said, IT service will improve and eventually surpass what the organization experienced before outsourcing.

That's good news for agencies considering — or in the throes of — outsourcing IT. As the Navy begins deploying NMCI, one of the government's largest IT outsourcing pacts ever, there have been problems. Some employees question its usefulness, as chronicled in this magazine. But if the Navy can do a better job because its systems architecture is seamless and standardized, then the painful transition will be worth it in the end.

With that in mind, the Navy and its contractor, Electronic Data Systems Corp., should stay the course. There will always be critics and — with a contract of this scope and hefty price tag — naysayers are poised to cry foul. But if the visionaries behind NMCI are right, the resulting system should provide more robust and reliable IT support for sailors and Marines.

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