Pentagon, Navy grapple over NMCI delay

Naval Station Norfolk

It was a tense week for proponents of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract as Navy and Defense Department officials wrangled over how the innovative outsourcing program should be tested and evaluated.

The current plan is to have 42,000 NMCI users by this November. However, meeting that schedule could be stalled until November 2002, according to a June 29 memo by Linton Wells II, acting DOD chief information officer.

In the memo, obtained by Federal Computer Week, Wells cited an updated NMCI schedule that Joseph Cipriano, Navy Department program executive officer for information technology, presented June 27 to a Pentagon oversight and review group. Referring to a "significant slip" in NMCI implementation, Wells wrote, "A schedule impact of this magnitude usually indicates that major problems exist.

"As the DOD CIO, I want you to know I fully support the [Navy Department's] efforts, but these issues must be resolved before I can provide the mandated Clinger-Cohen Act certification to Congress." Clinger-Cohen requires agencies to implement enterprise architectures; Congress made NMCI compliance with the act a prerequisite for releasing fiscal 2002 funds.

Wells met with Navy Department and DOD test and evaluation officials July 12 to discuss their options. The outcome was unknown, but a source familiar with the situation said another meeting is scheduled for this week.

Rick Rosenburg, NMCI program executive for lead vendor Electronic Data Systems Corp., predicted that officials would reach a compromise and denied that major program problems exist. "We are ready to go" the last week in July with the first 500 NMCI users at Naval Air Facility Washington.

The talk of delays comes on the heels of July 9 comments by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Speaking with reporters at the opening of the first NMCI network operations center, Warner indicated that commercial test and evaluation techniques were not enough to prove the contract's mettle.

But a Warner spokesman said the senator was not prescribing a strategy for the $6.9 billion procurement project. "He wants DOD and [the Navy Department] to work together" to reach an agreement, Carter Cornick said. "They've got to do their job, and then we'll evaluate."

If DOD uses commercial test and evaluation methods to measure NMCI, the evaluation could meet its November 2001 deadline, an EDS official said.

If Congress does not receive the mandated operational evaluation from Wells in time to approve the funds, the Navy Department wouldn't be able to use any fiscal 2002 dollars for NMCI.

If Wells were to require that NMCI undergo the same testing and evaluation regimen that DOD officials use for weapons systems, Rosenburg said EDS would have to halt its NMCI deployment after it switches over the entire Naval Air Systems Command.

"The testing community has worked hard to develop a reasonable approach and is not the reason for the slippage," said Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Hansen, who attributed NMCI's problems to the number of legacy applications that require testing.

Any attempt to delay NMCI is a "huge mistake," according to Paul Brubaker, the former Pentagon deputy CIO who is now president of e-government solutions at Commerce One Inc.

"If those who seek to use the political process to impede [NMCI] are successful—and we can only pray they are not—it may irrevocably destroy the ability of government to modernize its infrastructure and realize the promise of the Information Age," Brubaker said.

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