NMCI: One year and counting

More than a year after the massive Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract was awarded, program officials acknowledge that the contract remains an enigma to many people—including some within the Navy.

NMCI's task seems simple enough: Bring the Navy and Marine Corps' disparate information technology systems together under a single vendor to provide greater security and interoperability. The ultimate goal is providing increased combat readiness for warfighters.

However, moving NMCI from theory to reality has proved a challenge, officials say, because the Navy's IT infrastructure must be transformed from one in which products are purchased piecemeal into a utility similar to a telephone service.

During the first year of the contract, NMCI leaders faced issues ranging from how to handle thousands of old legacy applications to questions about how the Pentagon will oversee the program.

Although officials for the Navy and lead contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp. are steadfastly bullish about NMCI, some observers suggest that the effort remains unproven.

Marv Langston, a former Defense Department deputy chief information officer and now a senior vice president at Science Applications International Corp., said NMCI is doing well given its constraints. But the Navy must chart new waters as it outsources its network, he said, and it's a program that needs to prove itself in the government environment.

The initial contract was awarded Oct. 6, 2000, to the NMCI Information Strike Force, a group of companies led by EDS, whose $6.9 billion bid was about $3 billion less than the three other bidders—Computer Sciences Corp., IBM Corp. and General Dynamics Corp.—according to officials familiar with the proposals.

Eventually, NMCI officials say, the contract—the largest federal IT contract ever—will provide the Navy and Marine Corps with secure, universal access to integrated voice, video and data communications and link more than 360,000 desktops.

At its heart, NMCI is a performance-based contract, said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. and a former senior Air Force procurement official. "It's too much of an unknown at this point" to assess its status, he said.

As EDS replaces desktop systems under the contract, the vendor team must meet stipulated service-level agreements. The deal rewards EDS for better service and penalizes it for failures.

The first desktops were in place only in early September, so no figures are yet available to judge performance, Mather noted. "That's the true test of these programs."

Others give NMCI high marks so far. "Everyone we talked to sees NMCI as an unmitigated success," said Mike Kush, senior systems engineer for Vector Research Inc. and chairman of the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association's team that annually forecasts Defense spending.

"Based on what we've had to do and what we've had to overcome, we're all pretty pleased with what we've accomplished so far," said Capt. Chris Christopher, deputy program executive officer for IT at the Navy Department.

NMCI has been an extraordinary success given its size and diversity and the Navy's required culture change, said Rick Rosenberg, EDS' NMCI program executive. "Does that mean that everything has gone great, that there haven't been any problems? Not at all," he said. But given the hurdles the project has faced, it is on track, he added. During the past year, EDS has built an infrastructure that lays the groundwork for the big task of year two — rolling out seats.

There have been three major hurdles to overcome: the massive number of existing legacy systems; the debate between Pentagon and Navy officials over how much testing is necessary for NMCI to proceed; and the culture issue as people are forced to change the hardware and software they use and where they go for help-desk support. As the Navy moves to its new network, it must clean out thousands of old applications that either fail to meet the Navy's standard software configuration or do not meet DOD security requirements.

The legacy software issue is "not an NMCI problem," according to Christopher. "It's a problem that NMCI is going to solve." Although program officials knew that legacy applications posed an issue, nobody realized the scope. Navy and EDS officials have been bogged down in reviewing applications to determine if they are necessary and, if so, testing them to ensure that they meet security requirements.

The legacy issue also fed the culture issue because NMCI forced users to abandon well-worn applications, and they were often reluctant to do so. Christopher noted that employees at one site were still using a DOS version of the 1980s word processing program WordStar.

Pentagon and Navy officials were also able to reach agreement on how the DOD CIO will oversee the massive project, a task required by Congress. The agreement shifts NMCI away from a calendar schedule to an event-driven schedule in which the DOD CIO will review the project's progress when NMCI reaches certain milestones.

NMCI officials said they expect to build on the current infrastructure. "Year one was about building the partnership," Rosenberg said. "Year two will be about strengthening that partnership."

MORE INFO

Where NMCI stands

* The NMCI Information Strike Force has taken responsibility for the

network at 29 sites.

* Those sites contain 44,000 seats.

* 216 NMCI seats have been rolled out at the Naval Air Facility, Washington,

D.C.

* Two network operations centers have been established in Norfolk, Va.,

and San Diego.

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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