Air Force deals forge service standards for IT

The recent buys are part of the broader effort to move to a net-centric Air Force, the service's Kenneth Heitkamp says.

Two major contracts unveiled in recent days demonstrate the Air Force is serious about saving money and improving productivity by enforcing discipline on hardware and software buys across the service.

The service on Sept. 10 announced the award of contracts to four large vendors and four small businesses under its $9 billion Network Centric Solutions program, or Netcents. Work under the five-year indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract includes engineering, software development, integration, security and telephone services, as well as voice, video and data hardware and software supporting the Defense Department's Global Information Grid architecture.

And during the Air Force's annual IT conference in Montgomery, Ala., late last month, executives from Dell Inc. and Microsoft Corp. briefed service personnel on the details of an enterprise license to standardize on core desktop software from Microsoft.

Kenneth Heitkamp, Air Force assistant CIO for lifecycle management, said Dell and Microsoft received a contract worth as much as $441 million over six years, if all options are exercised, for Windows, Office, Exchange and other core software for more than 525,000 desktops throughout the service.

'With this initiative, which we've labeled the 'One Air Force, One Network, One Enterprise' approach to Microsoft software, we will have one agreement with Microsoft through Dell for the software,' Heitkamp said. 'The purpose of this was to standardize on the core products already widely used, then standardize and optimize their use across the Air Force.'

The agreement replaces more than 38 independent deals negotiated separately within the Air Force, which had resulted in multiple versions and configurations of software being used with different levels of support, he said.

The decision to standardize on Microsoft software re-
flected the existing environment within the Air Force, Heitkamp said. The service already had licenses for about 369,000 desktop PCs; the new agreement provides software assurance, including annual updates and upgrades. In addition, several Air Force commands were in various stages of negotiating purchases of Microsoft software.

Unique to this program, Air Force employees will be able to buy the core Microsoft Office suite for home use for a nominal fee. 'This is viewed by the Air Force as a quality-of-life benefit, [and] it supports telecommuting,' Heitkamp said. Dell is establishing a Web site to support the home use option.

'This is part of the many initiatives to move to a net-centric Air Force, with critical mission software being put under disciplined configuration management and standardization,' he said. 'This initiative will help us to implement standard configurations, improve patch management, and improve security and productivity across the Air Force.'

Similarly, while the eight vendors selected for Netcents will compete for individual task orders, the goal still is to create a standardized IT environment while controlling costs, improving productivity and reducing duplication, said Lt. Gen. Tom Hobbins, deputy chief of staff for warfighting integration. 'Netcents ... builds upon several initiatives to provide an architectural baseline, technical standards and operational governance to support the Air Force's warfighting needs,' Hobbins said in written response to a reporter's questions.

New strategies

Heitkamp said the Air Force intends to apply commodity management strategies within the Netcents contract, such as identifying strategic sources, leveraging its expenditures and achieving standardization.

The use of multiple vendors under Netcents is consistent with the drive to create a standard environment, said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. of Oakton, Va.

'All of the vendors are being held to interoperability standards,' Mather said. As long as those standards are in place, 'if you don't absolutely have to standardize on a particular brand name, competition is a wonderful thing.'

The vendors selected for Netcents are Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va.; Centech Group Inc. of Arlington, Va.; General Dynamics Corp.; Lockheed Martin Corp.; Multimax Inc. of Largo, Md.; NCI Information Systems Inc. of Reston, Va.; Northrop Grumman Corp.; and Telos Corp. of Ashburn, Va.

The contracts each have a three-year base period with two one-year options.

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