NMCI officials press for big changes

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon calls NMCI project and lead contractor EDS Corp. 'rocky and problematic.'

Ricardo Watson/UPI

Marine general criticizes the contractor, but says project has 'no choice' but to succeed

NEW ORLEANS'The Navy's embattled intranet project is undergoing significant changes aimed at improving its management and operation. Despite sharp criticism of the multibillion-dollar program'some from its own ranks'service brass remain committed to it.

Of course, they have to be. The Navy and Marine Corps have staked the future of their IT operations on the $8.82 billion Navy-Marine Corps Intranet project.

'When NMCI is fully operational, there is no doubt in my mind that NMCI is the right way to go, and I'm confident we will get there,' said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon Jr. 'We are not there yet, but we really have no choice but to get there.'

Hanlon was sharply critical of NMCI and lead contractor EDS Corp. here at the 2004 NMCI Industry Symposium.

'I believe that EDS was not prepared to implement the contract,' said Hanlon, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant for combat development. 'Whether it was due to not understanding the process or lack of internal oversight, it has been rocky and problematic,' he said.

Hanlon said transition of Marine Corps operating forces to NMCI has been delayed. Also, network services are not always available for users cut over to the intranet and progress has been slow in acquiring new services.

'Suffice it to say, the current rate takes far too long to reach objectives, and to all in this room, this is unacceptable,' Hanlon said.

Rear Adm. Anthony Lengerich, a senior vice commander with the Naval Sea Systems Command, warned that the services will lose their workforces if the Navy and EDS don't better manage the transition to NMCI.

'We will lose the government workforce if we don't very soon start to produce the same level of efficiencies that they've had before,' Lengerich said. 'They will leave'and you would leave too, if you worked for a business that no longer had efficient processes.'

Several changes to NMCI were announced at the symposium:
  • A reduction of the number of service-level agreements that the Navy uses to measure contractor performance and offer incentives for good service

  • Modifications allowing EDS to accept enterprise application hosting service

  • A delay in rolling out a new laboratory to test vendor software for compatibility with the network (see box, below).

In discussing numerous problems with NMCI, such as slow performance caused by security measures and flagging user satisfaction, Navy secretary Gordon England said Navy leaders are committed to moving forward on what he calls 'the largest single network in the world.'

'Only the Internet itself has more users than NMCI,' England said.

NMCI eventually will have more than 360,000 users on its integrated voice, video and data portal. The second largest network, run by IBM Corp., has 319,000 users, followed by the United Kingdom government, which outsources 100,000 government computer seats.

Noting that EDS has experienced financial problems as a result of the project, England applauded its perseverance on NMCI.

'This has not been a perfect process,' England added. Still, it's already considerably better than the way IT was managed before in the Navy, he said. Just five years ago, the Navy had 28 separate commands that budgeted and managed their own IT systems autonomously.

The Navy had no accounting of how much money it spent on IT products and services. Today, IT expenditures are bundled into the monthly computer seat cost the Navy pays for NMCI.

One step to improve management of the portal has been to trim the service-level agreements to a more manageable number. When the contract was signed in October 2000, the Navy established 240 performance criteria within about 30 categories that EDS had to meet, said Rear Adm. Charles Munns, who recently left as NMCI director after being nominated for a new command. 'Our lesson was, 240 was too many,' he said.

Capt. Chris Christopher, deputy director for future operations, communications and business initiatives for the NMCI program office, said he didn't know what the NMCI office's end SLA target would be, but he called the process 'evolutionary.'

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