Eye on IT programs

Transportation Security Administration's Information Technology Managed Services contract

Why you should care

Performance-based contracting has never been attempted on such a large scale. It probably never will again if TSA fails.

What's coming

The agency and its contractor are finalizing a strategic plan while rolling out the second phase of this massive project.

U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology

Why you should care

A linchpin program at DHS, its success hinges on the department's ability to manage a massive rollout of complex technology in a tight time frame.

What's coming

Look for a contract award in late spring and a mad dash to meet impending deadlines.

Defense logistics

Why you should care

It was true in Iraq, and it will figure large in future battles: The supply line helps determine the strength and reach of military forces.

What's coming

The Pentagon will invest heavily in technology and concepts borrowed from commercial supply chain management.

Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System

Why you should care

The Pentagon, as much as any agency, can prove the possibility and value of integrating personnel systems scattered across a department.

What's coming

The first make-or-break milestone comes this spring, when contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. submits its design plan.

Electronic Records Archive

Why you should care

Every agency has a vested interest in the National Archives and Records Administration's strategy for storing word processing files, e-mail and other electronic documents.

What's coming

Having successfully secured congressional confidence — and fiscal 2004 funding — NARA will select a vendor to develop the system.

Watch and learn

The agency programs on this Watch List add up to billions of dollars over the life of the contracts involved. Yet the dollar value is not what makes these programs worth watching. This list highlights projects that could have an impact beyond the scope of the work involved. The Transportation Security Administration's Information Technology Managed Services contract, for example, might be viewed as a test bed of sorts for the concept of performance-based acquisitions.

It's rarely the case that a bold new idea in policy or procurement is taken up wholesale across the federal government. Instead, most agencies will wait and watch while one of their more daring brethren, with sufficient motivation to try something new, accepts the risks and gives it a try.

What often motivates agency officials is a pressing need to deliver services vital to their missions. Not surprisingly, the Homeland Security and the Defense departments figure large in our list.

Here are five programs that bear watching in 2004.

TSA puts performance front and center

TSA is something of a guinea pig.

For years now, federal government officials have talked about the concept of performance-based contracting, in which a contractor is paid based on its ability to achieve measurable outcomes, rather than for providing specific products or services.

Numerous agencies have experimented with performance-based acquisitions, but none on the scale — or as likely to have the ramifications — of what TSA is attempting. In August 2002, TSA officials awarded Unisys Corp. a billion-dollar performance-based contract to develop the agency's information technology infrastructure.

If TSA and Unisys can make the deal work, it could encourage other agencies to follow suit. The contract, known as IT Managed Services (ITMS), also should provide a bevy of lessons learned and best practices.

TSA's top information official acknowledges that ITMS has attracted the attention of reform-minded federal procurement shops and private industry.

"A lot of people are looking at us and gauging what we're doing," said TSA chief information officer Patrick Schambach.

Indeed, the pact is shaping up as an important test case for this new style of government contracting.

"Because performance-based contracting is such an important improvement in the procurement system, I think everyone is going to be watching very closely to see how well the contract works," said Steve Kelman, professor of Public Management at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "If the contract works well, people will be looking very closely at the lessons learned."

Performance-based contracting requires new levels of government/industry cooperation, among numerous other innovations, according to Greg Baroni, president of Unisys' Global Public Sector and Schambach's counterpart on the TSA program.

This system "changes the relationship between government and the private sector," Baroni said. "It's forging new ground in the way we work together."

"We have been brutally honest in this engagement," Schambach said. "When we use the word partnership, we stress the full meaning of that word."

Using a mirrored approach to organizational structure for the agency and the contractor has also helped build trust, according to Baroni.

There will continue to be major developments in ITMS during 2004, including finalizing ITMS' strategic plan. Tasks this year include securing broadband network packages for airports and deploying applications such as electronic time-and-attendance systems for airport screeners.

— Randall Edwards

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Make or break for US-VISIT

A massive entry/exit system intended to track foreign visitors in the United States is expected to be more than just a measure of how the new Homeland Security Department performed this year.

In the bigger picture, it is also viewed as a reflection of just how much government has learned from its past struggles to implement large, complex information technology projects.

The multibillion-dollar, multiyear U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator System (US-VISIT) will be rolled out in phases, starting early this year. Strict deadlines and the large-scale deployment of relatively unfamiliar biometric technology also raise the degree of difficulty for this high-profile project.

Among the most crucial choices DHS officials will make is choosing the right prime contractor for the job, a decision set for this spring. And, of course, the ultimate question is simply whether the system will work as advertised to track the millions of visitors crossing the country's borders each year.

The chief challenge, said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of market intelligence and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc., is in managing the deployment. Officials have avoided what he called the big bang theory by implementing it over several years, and the planned biometric technology isn't particularly bleeding-edge, he said. Nevertheless, success hinges on effective management.

"I think they're going to be able to achieve pretty much all their objectives, both the technologies and the timeline to meet some of the mandates," Bjorklund said. "But it's a tough job. It takes very, very skillful and precise attentive program management and control to be able to do that much on that kind of scale."

One interested onlooker is Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, who recently sent letters to DHS and State Department officials questioning the broad themes of the program. Davis wondered how the system might impact businesses, how DHS and State officials are coordinating efforts, and how the data will be stored and protected. His oversight, however, shouldn't be seen as negative, said Davis spokesman David Marin.

"Davis believes it's such an important component of our war on terrorism," Marin said. "He wants to help ensure it's implemented as effectively as possible. These are the areas we'll continue to look into in 2004 as implementation moves forward."

— Sara Michael

***

DOD tests using retail techniques to improve logistics

For decades, Defense Department officials have worked to better manage the flow of supplies from the warehouses to the front lines. Officials at Wal-Mart, Dell Inc. and other manufacturers began to think along the same lines and came up with some solutions.

Now DOD officials are hoping that similar inventory management systems and procedures can help the government cut costs and better manage the flow of essential supplies.

DOD's new systems will make it easier for the department to manage its payroll and take care of administrative functions. They will also provide the Pentagon with a comprehensive view of forces deployed worldwide.

The military will make a concerted effort this year to start providing materiel to troops on an on-demand basis instead of an en masse basis. Commanders and logisticians call it "sense-and-respond," "just-in-time" or "distribution-based" logistics. Gen. Paul Kern, the Army's top materiel officer, calls it "velocity management."

The system uses handheld scanners, radio frequency identification tags, and hardware and software to track the consumption and resupply of necessary items.

"We know what's in the shipping containers. We know what's coming. We manage it on a daily basis," said Kern, commanding general of the Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir, Va.

But the work has just started. Even though many of the new technologies were used during Operation Iraqi Freedom — albeit in early stages of development — logistics nightmares still occurred.

Supply piles of water, clothing, ammunition, fuel and food — branded with plywood spray-painted with their contents and shipping destinations — littered the landscape of Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, the reception area for materiel and the staging point for U.S. and coalition forces entering Iraq.

This year the military will spend $6.8 billion on information technology to update its logistics processes and systems — the fastest growth area for vendors in jobs and money, according to a 2003 survey conducted by the Government Electronics and IT Association, an industry trade and lobby group located in Arlington, Va.

DOD's Office of Force Transformation will stress sense-and-respond logistics. The concept uses mobile software agents embedded in computer systems to detect increased demand or consumption of materiel.

The Defense Logistics Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va., will continue updating its logistics planning and processes by 2006. The eight-year initiative hinges on implementing SAP AG's business software and buying more commercial applications to replace DLA's Cobol-based proprietary applications. The agency will also add new hardware to improve its mainframe computers.

The Army should receive approval this month for the blueprint of the Global Combat Support System-Army, which is planned for deployment starting in the first quarter of fiscal 2006. The three-year effort, which also uses SAP's business software, automates and integrates Army business, customer, financial, human resources and supply chain systems.

Also this month, the Air Force will start a $1 billion program to consolidate and improve its logistics systems. ELog21 aims to streamline more than 600 Air Force logistics systems that use mostly proprietary software into about 25 systems running commercial applications.

And the Marine Corps will continue buying software and support applications for the GCSS-Marine Corps, which officially became a program last October. GCSS-Marine Corps uses Global Positioning System technologies that link the Marines' business supply systems to form a standardized logistics support system.

— Frank Tiboni

***

DOD rolls out world's largest HR system

The time for talk is over when it comes to building what will be the world's largest and most ambitious personnel management system. This spring will be critical for the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS), as lead contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. submits its design plan for the giant system to DOD officials.

Navy Capt. Valerie Carpenter, DIMHRS joint program manager, has said the design plan is make-or-break for the project, which has an aggressive timetable.

"If that goes well, all will go well," Carpenter said. "If not, we may as well fold our tents and go home."

Hyperbole aside, the initial design plan sets the road map for how DIMHRS will incorporate 79 systems and interface with more than 400 others.

"The toughest challenge will be to get all of the information that we need that is on legacy systems that DIMHRS will subsume and interface with," said Doug McVicar, Northrop's program manager.

After the design decisions are made, the second and third quarters of the year will be spent in development, and the fourth will consist largely of internal testing.

Among those keeping an eye on DIMHRS are officials from DHS, who are still wrestling with how to integrate and combine the different human resource systems from the agencies that were brought together under the new department's umbrella. Carpenter said the U.S. Public Health Service is also monitoring the program's progress.

DIMHRS' initial operating capability is scheduled for November 2005. From the end of this year until the system is ready, it will undergo a battery of tests to ensure interoperability, scalability and functionality.

— Matthew French

***

NARA seeks electronic archives solution

E-government may still be a work in progress, but that hasn't kept agencies from spewing electronic records at a furious pace — records that must be properly dealt with, even if a standard system for doing so doesn't yet exist.

Coming up with that system, or at least a game plan for building it, is the goal of the National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archives program.

For several years, officials at NARA have been discussing how to store, search and retrieve electronic records well into the future. The challenge is illustrated by the fact that newer computers and software can't read many records that were created only 10 years ago.

The ultimate solution isn't scheduled for initial operating capability until fiscal 2007, but 2004 is the year that the agency moves from talk to action.

NARA officials released a final request for proposals in December. The RFP outlined a system environment in which records will use much more detailed Extensible Markup Language metadata than now used, because a record isn't a record without context.

The future system is expected to make a major impact across government, where it will help guide records management policy and drive technology deployments. Industry is also counting on the Electronic Records Archives program to provide the impetus behind a great deal of research and development, said one industry program manager who asked not to be named.

This challenging technical problem will likely be further complicated by scrutiny from Congress, which will be watching the program closely this year following a General Accounting Office report expressing concerns with NARA's plans.

There are still many records management experts in government and industry keeping an eye on Congress to make sure appropriators understand that slowing down the Electronic Records Archives will slow down many e-government efforts, said Rick Barry, a records management consultant and principal with Barry Associates in Arlington, Va.

NARA is also relying on advice and recommendations from the National Academies. Program officials have been addressing all of the concerns raised by others and are moving forward with confidence with their plan, according to ERA Program Director Ken Thibodeau.

— Diane Frank

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