NMCI test center delayed

NEW ORLEANS — The Navy Marine Corps Intranet Product Evaluation Center (NPEC) may not be up and running until the end of this year, according to NMCI executives. NPEC is a clearinghouse that will allow software vendors to submit their applications to determine compatibility with the enterprisewide network.

Announced last year, the NPEC is the Navy's foray into the area of software evaluation. Although the clearinghouse won't accredit the software to be loaded onto the $8.8 billion NMCI network, it will give a stamp of approval that the software is compatible with the network and its software.

Navy Capt. Chris Christopher, NMCI staff director, said officials hoped the NPEC would be operational by this month, but it will most likely be delayed for several more months. Legal and financial concerns almost entirely derailed the program, Christopher said.

"One of the biggest challenges to going live was determining how we'd shift the cost of the test from the government to industry," he said. "To do that, we had to figure out how to take money from the vendors. Fortunately, the E-Gov Act of 2002 contains in it the share-in-savings clause that will allow us to do that."

But no other agency in the Defense Department has done anything like that, so the Navy — and NMCI in particular — is in the lead, Christopher said.

Some companies were wary of submitting their software to lead contractor EDS or could not afford the tens of thousands of dollars EDS required to evaluate each application, Christopher said. To provide an alternative, the Navy proposed the NPEC, which will theoretically take less time than the EDS test and cost considerably less.

To enter EDS' queue for tests, an application has to be sponsored by a command on the NMCI network. In other words, a command user of NMCI has to tell EDS that the command requires the use of the application, which forces vendors to solicit sponsors. Under the proposed Navy system, any vendor can submit software to be evaluated, regardless of whether a command indicates a pressing need for the application.

"We were going to follow the EDS lead with their testing lab in San Diego, but that is a long and costly process that would disrupt throughput," Christopher said.

Christopher cautioned that approval from the NPEC will not automatically lead to inclusion on the network. Rather, it will act as a seal of approval that the application is secure and compatible with the network. The Navy's functional area managers — subject experts who approve what software eventually makes it on to the system — still have the final say on applications to be used on the network.

"The NPEC will not tell the functional area managers what to do, will not make acquisition choices, will not dictate NMCI decisions, will not provide certification and will not provide accreditation," Christopher said. "What it will do is get an application onto a list of approved applications."

The target for initial operational capability is still sometime later this year. Christopher said the standards — what will allow an application to pass or fail — would definitely be published this year.

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