Army takes new tack on support services

In a new approach to program development that is gaining momentum among federal agencies, the Army selected two vendors for a 10-year contract worth up to $1.45 billion to support its critical software programs.

The Army's Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom) selected Litton PRC Inc. (now Northrop Grumman Information Technology) and Itel Solutions to compete on task orders under the Systems and Software Engineering Support Services program. The contractors will provide services to Cecom's Software Engineering Center, which supports more than 300 Army and joint services systems.

The new contract breaks with Cecom's previous support services contracts, according to Army officials.

The most important change is in scope. The contractors will be competing on projects across various "domains," such as command, control, communications and intelligence, electronic warfare, sensors and avionics. In the past, the Army awarded contracts for each domain individually.

The new contract will make it easier to ensure that systems developed in one domain will work with systems in another, so critical information can flow throughout the battlefield or garrison.

"We're placing a greater emphasis on 'system of systems' integration to take advantage of innovation in industry and apply it across the variety of [systems] we're responsible for, as opposed to awarding tasks to a variety of contractors in one stovepiped set of ways," said a senior center official.

The Army also opted to select two contractors that will compete on task orders throughout the life of the contract, rather than just one, to encourage contractors to develop more innovative approaches, the official said.

Northrop Grumman IT is heading a 17-company team on the contract. "We want to work collaboratively with the center to make it a center of excellence for software engineering across government," said Tom McFarlane, vice president of Northrop Grumman IT and program manager for the Army's contract. Itel could not be reached for comment.

Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., said the system of systems approach also serves as the basis for the Internal Revenue Service's Prime modernization contract, the Customs Service's modernization initiative and the Coast Guard's Deepwater contract.

However, those deals have one prime contractor, and Mather is not convinced the approach will work with two prime contractors. The goal of the approach is to find "the most effective asset mix for solving a problem across an entire enterprise," Mather said, adding that having two prime contractors and numerous subcontractors will make that goal more difficult to attain. "I'm a big proponent of extended competition, but I'm not sure how it will work in a system of systems approach."

Systems and Software Engineering Support Services

Agency: Army Communications-Electronics Command

Value: Up to $1.45 billion over 10 years

Description: Provide services to the Software Engineering Center, which supports more than 300 Army and joint services systems.

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