Lawmakers again balk at NMCI

Capt. Chris Christopher says many of the problems users have result from a misunderstanding of how NMCI works.

Olivier Douliery

The Navy again must convince the House Appropriations Committee that plans to move all Navy and Marine Corps information systems to a single network are going smoothly.

A draft report of the fiscal 2003 Defense appropriations bill, released earlier this month, cited inadequate testing methods and a failure to identify thousands of legacy systems as lingering concerns for the $6.9 billion Navy-Marine Corps Intranet project.

Congress last year had noted serious reservations about spending money on NMCI for 2002 as well.

Lawmakers expressed concern about several aspects of the program before earmarking $691 million. The president's NMCI budget request for fiscal 2003 is $1.4 billion.

Lawmakers aren't the only ones complaining about NMCI. Users at Navy facilities where the network has been rolled out have voiced dissatisfaction over lost data, slow help desk response and inferior hardware.

The spending bill would limit the rollout of the program to 160,000 NMCI computer seats, a number that falls short of the total approved by the Pentagon. The bill would prohibit the Navy from allowing contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp. to take over more seats until lawmakers are satisfied that their concerns have been resolved.

In its report, committee members said they are concerned that problems have 'limited the current state of the network's capabilities to such a degree that the system has significantly impacted operations.'

The committee noted that Naval Air Systems Command users depend on thousands of legacy applications, requiring more than half of the users to need two terminals, one for legacy systems and one for NMCI.

'While this problem exists, the Navy has proceeded with additional seat orders for additional locations, creating the potential for this crisis to grow exponentially,' the report said.
Several users at NAVAIR echoed the committee's statements.

'I lost a day and a half of work,' said one NAVAIR user who asked not to be identified and complained about the integration of his legacy system. 'Half the files migrated over [to NMCI] were gone and had to be remigrated. Still some files were unrecovered. Data loss went unexplained.'

Help, please

Other users complained about the lengthy wait when calling the help desk and about hardware.

'When I called the help desk, they had me on hold for 10 minutes and then a message came up saying I could leave a message,' one user said. 'I left a message, and an hour went by before I heard from someone. You fall into a black hole.'

Capt. Chris Christopher, the Navy's deputy for plans, policy and operations for NMCI, said many of the problems that users are having boil down to a misunderstanding of how the program works.

For instance, command leaders buy a level of service, hardware and software'from standard to sophisticated. The level is linked to the quality of service and the software applications a system comes with.

Christopher said EDS has established a toll-free number for users to call if they are not satisfied with the service they are receiving from the help desk.

'We are trying to listen' to users and respond to their needs, Christopher said. 'It relates back to the issue of cultural change. This is a team effort. The longer teams practice, the better they get.'

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