NMCI debate close to resolution

Defense Department officials are close to agreeing on a timetable that would address the vexing testing issue threatening to put the Navy Marine Corps Intranet on hold, according to the DOD chief information officer.

Speaking at a roundtable with reporters last week, John Stenbit, assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence and the department's CIO, said the Navy and the Pentagon are "aligned" on the issue of how to test NMCI, the Navy's $6.9 billion effort to outsource its desktop infrastructure.

Congress approved NMCI under the condition that the Pentagon CIO certify the program before it was fully implemented, but DOD officials have been at loggerheads about what such testing should entail and when it could bedone.

The two sides have reached an "agreement about what we're going to do with the program, when it is going to get done, what the event-driven milestones are [and] who is responsible for doing what before the next event," Stenbit said.

"I also believe we are still in the mode that there are still tests that could fail that could put that program in jeopardy. That's like in all programs," said Stenbit, who made his first public comments about the project since taking the post this month.

Pentagon officials have argued that NMCI needs more rigorous testing, similar to that of a weapon system. Navy leaders have pushed for NMCI touse a more streamlined testing and certification approach, which, they argue, is a standard in the private sector.

The lingering dispute could get expensive if unresolved. Under the NMCI contract signed last October, the Navy must pay Electronic Data Systems Corp. $728 million in fiscal 2002, even if the program is stalled, as it likely would be as a result of more rigorous testing requirements.

Officials from the Navy, DOD and the Office of Management and Budget have been meeting regularly to resolve the issue. The sides met Aug. 21, and "from that meeting, there were some decisions made," an official familiar with the discussions said.

Stenbit would not provide further details about the agreement. DOD spokeswoman Susan Hansen said that officials from the Navy and DOD have been working out the details, but lawmakers must approve any agreement before more details could be released.

"I think that [the Pentagon] and the Navy are trying to come up with some process to take some of the risk out of the program and make sure that it is a success," Stenbit said. "When you're doing things you haven't tested,you don't know whether it does what you thought it does."

The new DOD CIO voiced tacit support for the program, calling it a "transformational idea" that, if successful, will move the Navy forward. "I commend the Navy for really jumping into that boat," he said. "Sometimes when you jump intoa big boat...it rocks. That one is rocking."

But Stenbit stopped short of saying that NMCI would be a model for the other services — at least until it has proven itself." I know it's not a perfect project," he said. "It's like anything else; there are lessons learned. If it's a success and it leads to a major transformation, that's what we need, [more] projects like that." But the level of attention that NMCI has required is an indication that that the model has not yet been perfected, he said.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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