Warner on NMCI: Not so fast

Naval Station Norfolk

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The ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee added to the drama surrounding the Navy's $6.9 billion outsourcing contract July 9 when he said that commercial test-and-evaluation techniques would not suffice when the department makes its report to Congress.

"Remember, the lives of men and women are dependent on [the] system," said Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), speaking with reporters at the opening of the Electronic Data Systems Corp. network operations center at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Warner also recalled his 30 years of involvement with department procurement—including service as the Navy secretary and as an enlisted electronics technician.

In giving its approval to roll out NMCI to as many as 15 percent of Navy users in 2001—about 42,000 "seats"—Congress required that it be given a testing and evaluation report before granting further approvals for rollouts in 2002.

Warner's comments follow those by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Military Readiness Subcommittee, who wrote a letter in May to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging him to use commercial test and evaluation techniques in assessing NMCI, because the service-based contract does not involve research and development.

But one Navy Department official tasked with implementing NMCI said that the service-level agreements the department holds with EDS will help to ensure its success. Network performance and customer service will be constantly monitored, and appropriate financial rewards and punishments given. "If you test an airplane and accept it, then you've got it," and can't return it, said Navy Capt. Chris Christopher, the department's deputy program executive officer for information technology.

"The more we fiddle [with testing], the more risk we're putting on the vendor," Christopher said, because any delays in implementing NMCI would mean EDS would lose money. If further NMCI deployment is stalled until 2002 because of rigorous testing and evaluation, then EDS officials could claim the government owes the company money because of the delays, he said.

NMCI's high stakes for EDS were evident July 9. In Norfolk, the company has spent $30 million on networking and server equipment from Cisco Systems Inc., Dell Computer Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., said Dan Proctor, EDS' network operations center manager there. This outlay of millions has come before EDS has collected any money on NMCI through monthly user fees.

While conceding that purely commercial test and evaluation techniques would not suffice for NMCI because of the Navy Department's national security mission, Christopher called the procurement's technical risk "really, really low." NMCI is a "whole different order of magnitude" from the department's use of airplanes and submarines, and its test and evaluation should reflect that, he said.

Joseph Cipriano, the Navy Department's program executive officer for information technology, said the department is evaluating "different alternatives" with Office of the Secretary of Defense officials for test and evaluation and is "hoping to come up with an agreement" soon.


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