NMCI wastes 22,500 man-hours on Dell battery recall; The enemy within; BlackBerry bandits redux

NMCI wastes 22,500 man-hours on Dell battery recall
The way the Navy and Army handled the Dell laptop PC battery recall last week illustrates why it’s a good idea to keep in-house managers in charge of crucial assets rather than outsourcing the responsibility.

The Navy Marine Corps Intranet program management folks deferred to their contractor, EDS, on how to handle the battery replacement. EDS told 45,000 NMCI users with bum Dell batteries to get in line on the Dell Web site to order their own batteries, which may take three weeks to arrive.

That misguided response hurts the Navy in two ways. First, it’s a colossal waste of time. It took me 15 minutes to determine whether the battery in my Dell Latitude, which I have nicknamed Sparky, was on the recall list. If I had needed to order a new battery, it probably would have added another 15 minutes to the whole process.

Multiply that 30 minutes by 45,000 NMCI users and you get 22,500 man-hours. If you assume the hourly rate for those folks is a low $10 an hour, this do-it-yourself battery replacement stunt would cost the Navy $225,000. That’s less than a rounding error at the Pentagon, but it’s real money in the rest of the world.

By acting on EDS’ advice, the Navy also lost the ability to deal with Dell as a big customer that could demand — and probably get — priority allocation of batteries for key users. Dell said little about prioritizing the distribution of batteries, but you can bet that big guns — say, for example, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer — are not waiting three weeks for a new battery.

Kevin Carroll, the Army’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems, knows he has folks facing real guns. He took an enterprise approach to the battery recall for 150,000 Dell laptop PC users and worked with the company to ensure that deployed troops were at the top of its priority list.

Carroll can take this approach because the Army has wisely kept desktop and laptop computer management and support in-house rather than pass them off to a contractor focused on the bottom line rather than the needs of soldiers.

As one Navy pal told me, the way the Navy mishandled the battery recall was “just another reason why NMCI is the contract everyone loves to hate.”

The enemy within
Management of the Navy’s communications security (Comsec), which includes controls on everything from radios with embedded cryptographic gear to safes that hold military codes, has tanked in the past three years, according to a recent message the Naval Network Warfare Command (Netwarcom) sent to all commands.

“The discipline and rigor of Comsec account management have atrophied, and the number of Comsec incidents/practices dangerous to security has increased,” according to the message, which went on to state that 350 Comsec incidents occurred in 2003, 350 in 2004 and 493 in 2005. In the first quarter of 2006, Netwarcom recorded 109 Comsec incidents, of which only 33 were related to combat or aircraft losses.

The majority of the losses involved handheld radios or other portable devices, Netwarcom said. Poor shipping practices were the No. 1 cause of lost or missing Comsec material.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I once lost a shackle sheet in Vietnam. The loss of the paper, which contained codes used to encrypt information for radio transmission, prompted my boss, Marine Sgt. Herbierto Gonzalez, to say that now all the militaries in all the nations of the free world would have to change their codes.

He then found a lot of sandbags for me that needed filling.

BlackBerry bandits redux
I’ve had many e-mail messages from Research in Motion BlackBerry users in response to an item in my last column in which I complained about BlackBerry use on airliners after flight attendants finish their admonishments against such use.

The gist of those messages is that BlackBerry users are not breaking any rules. They are working with the wireless mode turned off and are using the devices to compose messages they will send after the plane lands. That’s not only law-abiding but also a good use of government gear and time, they say.


If that were true, how come as soon as the plane gets close to the ground and within range of those BlackBerry towers, all those devices start going off?

Army Col. Dennis Saltzman, inspector general for the 81st Regional Readiness Command in Birmingham, Ala., agrees with me that airborne BlackBerry bandits need to be dealt with, and he has a creative solution.

“I favor having the airline industry send a jamming or altering signal out…[to] push back [the BlackBerry signal] so that all the work that has just been typed into the BlackBerry will be altered or rendered unusable on the receiving end of the transmission,” he wrote in an e-mail message. Saltzman said that experience would teach BlackBerry bandits a good lesson about consequences in a “day and age [when] there are no consequences to actions.”

“I learned very early to think about the consequences to my actions,” he said. “It didn’t take the Army schools to teach me to think about the second and third order of effects.”

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