FCW Watch List: A check-in
In January, Federal Computer Week published the FCW Watch List, which included five programs that warranted special attention during the next 12 months.
As with most programs, changes typically occur incrementally. And different systems proceed on different timetables.
The Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology
(US-VISIT) system, for example, has an aggressive timeline. By comparison, officials working on the National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archive (ERA) face the difficult task of trying to do what nobody has done before — create a central location for storing records in their native electronic form.
FCW covers these programs regularly, but it is important to occasionally take a step back and look at where these programs have come from — and where they are going.
So here is a status report on the following programs:
The Transportation Security Administration's Information Technology Managed Services (ITMS) contract.
DHS' US-VISIT system.
The Defense Department's logistics efforts.
DOD's Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS).
Putting one foot in front of the other
TSA's ITMS contract has been carefully watched because it is the first time a performance-based acquisition contract has been attempted on such a large scale.
The prime contractor working on the billion-
dollar project, Unisys Corp., is about one-third of the way through the second of ITMS' three phases.
Unisys is in the process of rolling out a wide-area network to replace virtual private network (VPN) dialup, which will remain as a backup.
To date, Unisys has completed implementation at more than 200 of 600 projected sites. The overall sites include 420 airports and 150 federal service director sites located on and off airport premises.
"Right now, it's about keeping our heads down and slogging through the day-to-day grind," said Tom Conaway, managing partner of homeland security for Unisys' Global Public Sector. This middle phase is expected to continue for the rest of the year, but it has encountered some budget constraints.
The initial stage included the awarding of the contract and a focus on meeting the congressional mandate to have the organization up and running. This meant that Unisys officials had to install TSA's basic infrastructure — including equipment, laptops, pagers, wireless phones, televisions, desktop computers, cable connections and handheld devices — and provide a hosting center for TSA's computer applications. The performance-based contract was awarded to Unisys in August 2002.
The ultimate goal of the program has yet to be fully specified, Conaway said. TSA and Unisys will begin defining that next near, he added.
— Sarita Chourey
Beginning a new phase
US-VISIT, the massive visitor-tracking system, has hit a crucial turning point.
Almost six months after its launch at airports and seaports, the multibillion-dollar program enters a new phase with the selection of a prime integrator to design and build the final system. The first phase was met with much praise, and many said it reflected the success of the new Homeland Security Department. But as DHS officials move aggressively to meet deadlines, congressional auditors say officials are still faltering over management and planning issues.
"The first phase of the program has been deployed and is operating, and the commitments that DHS made regarding this initial operating capability were largely met," a recent General Accounting Office report states. However, "the program office did not employ the kind of rigorous and disciplined controls that are typically associated with successful programs."
GAO officials criticized program managers for poorly managing the testing process and failing to implement controls for testing future phases. Testing on the first phase was completed after the system became operational, and controls are still not in place even though the second phase of the system is under way, according to GAO's report. DHS officials' plans for future staff and facility resources are also uncertain, which could complicate future phases, GAO officials said.
"These controls, while significant for the initial phases of US-VISIT, are even more critical for the later phases, because the size and complexity of the program will only increase, and the later that problems are found, the harder and more costly they are to fix," the report states.
DHS officials have been cited previously for program management problems, such as minimal staffing and undefined personnel roles, one of several areas US-VISIT Director Jim Williams has focused on fixing.
With the recent release of fiscal 2004 funds, Williams has been able to hire employees who were on detail to the program management office from other DHS agencies. Department officials also continue to plan for the exit portion of the program, and officials are testing a few pilot programs this year. Meanwhile, DHS and industry officials alike have their eyes on the December deadline for implementation at the nation's 50 largest land ports.
"Our challenges are just huge for this year coming up," Williams said in a recent interview. "We have a whole lot going on."
— Sara Michael
Setting new organizations, policies
DOD officials made progress during the first half of 2004 to better manage the flow of supplies from the warehouses to the front lines.
In January, the military implemented the Deployment and Distribution Operation Center (DDOC) to help Central Command (Centcom) order and track warfighting goods en route to and in the Middle East and southwest Asia. The 63-person organization merged existing computer systems using Web technologies that decreased from weeks to days the time it takes to deliver ammunition, clothing, water, food and hygiene products.
"DDOC is the right answer at the right time," said Louis Kratz, assistant deputy undersecretary of Defense for logistics plans and programs.
Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of Centcom, said he was glad that the eight other combatant commanders want similar centers. Military officials met earlier this year with commanders on the Korean peninsula and officials from Southern Command, which oversees the Caribbean and Latin America, and European Command, which covers Europe and most of Africa, about starting centers in those commands, said Army Brig. Gen. John Levasseur, DDOC's director.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense published an updated logistics architecture this month and will issue a strategy next month so service and
military officials can better share data among their computer systems. The two initiatives stem from materiel-tracking and delivery problems encountered during last year's invasion of Iraq.
"Our information architecture is aged," Kratz said. "Many of the systems were developed in the 1960s."
In August, the Pentagon will release a policy requiring military officials to buy systems and technologies that sense when supplies run low and automatically reorder them. Officials from DOD's Office of Force Transformation, led by retired Navy Vice Adm. Art Cebrowski, promoted sense-and-
respond systems earlier this year during industry conferences and media briefings.
Also this summer, military and civilian agency officials will meet to develop a consistent policy regarding the use of radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs). And in January 2005, the military must start using passive RFIDs on the lowest possible part, case or pallet.
The more expensive, active RFIDs cost about $100 each, use batteries, stay on all the time and require a scanner to determine the part's or the container's contents. Passive tags, which cost from 40 cents to $10, are dormant until scanned.
— Frank Tiboni
Putting the concept to the test
By all accounts, DIMHRS is moving along at a brisk pace. After being awarded the $280 million contract last September, officials at lead contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. wasted no time before getting to work.
No milestones are scheduled for this year, but Northrop has passed one of the most significant hurdles by getting the preliminary design approved in February. Meanwhile, company officials started developing the software and put it through a series of tests.
"We want to make sure the contractor has the same understanding of the requirements as the government," said Navy Capt. Valerie Carpenter, joint program manager for DIMHRS, which has been called the largest and most ambitious human resources system in the world. "Northrop has taken its first software release and broken it into four incremental 'builds,' and there is a design review for each build."
Carpenter said the company should be commended for its methodical approach of build a little, test a lot.
"The services accept that this is going to happen," she said. "We are marching steadily down a well-defined path."
Doug McVicar, Northrop's DIMHRS program manager, said the system has gone through two design reviews so far this year and is scheduled to go through two or three more this summer. Once those are completed, he said, the real building of the system begins.
"Each service has a customized way of doing things," McVicar said. "They want a generic implementation to develop their own criteria. And that's the type of implementation we will see. DIMHRS is not about developing a lot of software, but using the inherent capabilities of PeopleSoft" Inc.'s products.
Jon Jensen, DIMHRS program acquisition executive at Northrop, said the roadblocks are largely out of the way, and the focus after the build-out of the system will be the transition as the services are brought aboard. The Army is scheduled to go first, in late 2005, followed by the Reserves, the rest of the active armed services and the National Guard.
"There is, however, an analysis of how we could accelerate the rollout of DIMHRS because of problems with National Guard pay" systems, he said. There has been an ongoing problem with paying National Guard members on time while they are serving on extended duty. "We've been asked to explore ways to solve that problem sooner, and that would require funding plus-ups," Jensen said.
That problem, however, will rest with the services and will not affect the program for the immediate future, according to Steven Ehrler, the Navy's program executive officer for IT.
"The development of the system will not accelerate because we've determined the vendor has the most efficient approach for what is already a pretty rapid development," Ehrler said. "There's really not much room for acceleration from the development side. The deployment schedule is going to be up to the services."
So for the next several months, service officials will be completing their proof-of-concept reviews of DIMHRS, and they are beginning to firmly understand what the system is all about, according to McVicar.
— Matthew French
Will the pending departure of John Carlin, the national archivist, hurt the ERA program? That's been a concern of federal records managers and librarians since Carlin's replacement was nominated in April.
"At this point, I don't see any grounds for assuming anything would change," ERA program director Ken
Thibodeau said. He was quick to point out, however, that Carlin's influence saved ERA from cuts that appropriators had proposed last year during a period of congressional scrutiny.
The program's budget appropriation for fiscal 2004 is $35.9 million. "I absolutely believe we would not have the support we have in the Congress and the administration without [Carlin], but that's not a judgment on the possible successor," Thibodeau said.
For ERA, NARA has called on companies to provide a combination of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software and software integration and development services. "We want as much as possible to rely on COTS," Thibodeau said. "We're also aware that for some of the stuff we're asking for, there are no COTS products. You can't go out and buy a preservation system."
NARA is not the first or only federal agency interested in digital preservation, so the potential market is greater than one agency. The Library of Congress, NASA and the State Department need similar technology, as do large aerospace and pharmaceutical companies,
At State, for example, officials face digital preservation challenges remarkably similar to NARA's. The department needs to keep diplomatic correspondences for 30 years, Thibodeau said. "If you're keeping records for more than 20 years, you've got our problem," he said.
NARA officials plan to have an archival records system operating by 2007, but a fully operational system won't be ready until 2011. That way, the agency can "defer the technically risky stuff until later years,"
NARA officials are now reviewing ERA proposals, which were due Feb. 11. As many as nine prime systems integrators have expressed interest in bidding, although agency officials cannot reveal how many bids were received. It will be midsummer or early fall before the agency awards two design contracts, one each to competing companies, officials said.
To manage the ERA workload along with other projects, NARA bought and has begun using a project portfolio management system, Thibodeau said. It's an investment in keeping ERA on track.