NMCI exec takes change in stride
As a naval reservist, Capt. Chris Christopher is accustomed to being flexible, changing plans and working two jobs.
Since January, Christopher has served as the Navy Department's acting deputy program executive officer for information technology and director of the $6.9 billion Navy Marine Corps Intranet outsourcing contract. The Navy promoted him after David Litchfield returned to the private sector.
Christopher began his career in 1976 in the Navy, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. Christopher wanted to fly planes but soon discovered that he suffered from airsickness. So within two years, Christopher left active duty and joined the Naval Reserve Force as a Soviet intelligence analyst, training at the Naval Air Station in New Orleans and later in Pensacola, Fla.
Meanwhile, Christopher was working civilian jobs at Louisiana newspapers, first in the sports department at the New Orleans Times-Picayune while in college in the early 1970s. He held positions at several newspapers, including sports editor, and from 1984 to 1987 was the publisher of the weekly base newspaper for the New Orleans Naval Air Station and the monthly newspaper for the Louisiana National Guard.
In 1999, while Christopher was heading the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center's publication and visualization center, active duty called again. He returned to work at the Navy on the service's Year 2000 project at the Office of Naval Intelligence. Similar to the other military branches, the Navy relied heavily on reservists to coordinate software code testing and remediation for Year 2000 readiness.
His decision was the Navy's gain. "He's focused. He's very results- and goal- oriented," said Capt. Dan Dayton, a fellow naval reservist who worked with Christopher in the Year 2000 project office and then supervised Christopher's work as a Web publisher for the International Naval Review in New York.
Dayton, a former radio station owner who is now a spokesman for the Office of Naval Research, said he appreciated Christopher's "wonderful sense of humor."
Christopher's civilian experience could prove a benefit in grasping the contracting philosophy behind NMCI. He understands the bottom line and the importance of industry/government partnership. To avoid a long, drawn-out procurement, the Navy anticipated working with winning contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp. to add features to the contract, such as enabling users to access e-mail from home.
Christopher takes the extra workload in stride. "Good sense will prevail, and we'll come up with something we can agree on," he said of the complex deal. "This is a different approach to government contracting," rather than focusing only on the lowest price, he said.
Progress has been made on some fronts. EDS and the Navy reached a compromise April 18. For $500 a year, reservists who lack NMCI accounts or "seats" will be able to access their e-mail and public-key infrastructure-enabled applications from their home PCs as long as they have smart card readers and security tools.
Christopher works in a politically sensitive program that faces immediate criticism from opponents of outsourcing in the event of any problems. For example, when Litchfield left, NMCI detractors said they smelled problems with the program.
Christopher accepts such rumors as part of the job and dismisses them. NMCI is a multiple-year program, he said, and people will come and go on the government side and the vendor side.
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