FAA officials defend NexGen

The Federal Aviation Administration's decision to develop a Lotus Notes-based e-mail system—even though most other Transportation Department agencies use Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange—won't cause major headaches, according to FAA and DOT officials.

"We will be compatible with the outside world, including DOT," said Bill Culver, the FAA's Next Generation Messaging System program manager.

Last month, the FAA awarded IBM Corp. a $30 million contract under its NexGen program to develop an enterprisewide replacement for its current system, based on cc:Mail—an outdated program from IBM subsidiary Lotus Development Corp. that the company will not support after Oct. 31.

NexGen, based on Lotus Notes, will provide new features FAA users asked for, consolidated e-mail servers in just 12 locations (instead of 379) and reduced life-cycle costs, FAA officials say.

The decision to use Lotus Notes drew criticism from DOT's former chief information officer, George Molaski, however.

With most DOT agencies using Exchange, the FAA's decision to go with Notes will unnecessarily complicate the agency's ability to communicate with the department and result in a missed opportunity for consolidation and savings, Molaski said.

"It's time to stop these IT fiefdoms of everybody having to be unique," Molaski said. "If the majority of a department goes with a certain solution, other parts should conform.... The FAA will now not fit in with the overall architecture that's being developed."

Molaski said the NexGen award represents another example of an ill-advised FAA information technology procurement that could merit scrutiny.

"I would be very surprised if the [DOT inspector general] did not look closely at this, and Congress I think would be abdicating its oversight responsibilities if it did not look closely at this decision," he said. "It's just a very poor decision on the part of the FAA."

But DOT deputy CIO Kim Taylor said his organization reviewed the FAA's plans and found potential connection problems to be minimal.

"As we looked at the solution, we're satisfied that the right hooks within Lotus Notes and the right hooks within Microsoft Exchange are there to make the interoperability issues relatively minor," Taylor said.

Ed Brill, Notes director of marketing for Lotus, said the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol gateway built into Lotus' Domino server should provide a seamless connection to Exchange. "It won't be impacted at all," he said.

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