Army Sustaining Base program threatened with an early death
The House Appropriations Committee this month approved a Defense spending bill that
guts funding for the Army's Sustaining Base Information Systems program next year and
reduces it to nothing in 1998.
Budget-cutting threats by Congress have been a springtime ritual for SBIS since 1993,
when the Army awarded the 10-year, $474 million contract to modernize more than 50 Army
administrative and support systems. But this year the Army itself is considering
eliminating the troubled program altogether.
The SBIS cuts were included in a fiscal 1997 spending package that was generally
favorable for Defense Department information technology programs. The appropriations bill
would add about $500 million to the administration's Defense systems budget, sprinkled
across a variety of systems programs.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to approve a 1997 Defense spending bill.
But despite the positive spin of the House bill, SBIS took a rough hit. In the report
accompanying the bill, the committee said it "understands that [SBIS] has recently
been proposed for cancellation by the Army." Based on this knowledge, the committee
said, it recommended a $39 million reduction in the service's $59 million request for
Senior officials at the Program Executive Office for Standard Army Management
Information Systems (STAMIS) at Fort Belvoir, Va., which runs SBIS, said the committee
report is accurate.
"The Army can't afford to build any more applications," said Col. Richard
Johnson, who took over as STAMIS chief in May. Although the senior Army leadership
supports the program's goals, they have concluded that spending to develop and field more
applications cannot be justified, he added.
In a May 1995 letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Emmett Paige Jr.,
assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence,
conservatively estimated total lifecycle costs for SBIS at $1.44 billion.
SBIS prime contractors have developed only seven of the 50 originally planned
applications, and only three of these have been fielded. Lockheed Martin Corp. is the
current prime. It inherited the SBIS development contract through its acquisition of Loral
Corp., which had previously acquired the original contractor, IBM Corp.'s federal systems
Johnson said his staff is making a case to Congress, the Army and DOD for retaining at
least enough funding to roll out the four application modules that have been completed.
"Our intent is to try to leverage the investment we already have and try to get
applications out to the field, particularly applications that affect mobilization and
readiness," he said. "We've gotten a good response on that, and we're working on
restoring a minimum level of funding in 1998."
Johnson said he did not expect funding for any additional development work on SBIS,
however, and he was uncertain that even the total 1997 request would be restored.
In a written reply to questions, Paige said, "I certainly do support the
continuation of SBIS. It just does not serve us well to continue to start, stop, start and
stop again with not much to show for the millions spent. I am convinced that we will see
another evolution of this thrust to get to the SBIS objectives."
Along with the proposed SBIS cuts, the House Appropriations bill includes unrequested
funds for several information technology efforts across DOD. These additions were not
entirely unexpected, because the House and Senate Defense oversight committees had called
for additional funds in their authorization bills [GCN, May 27, Page 1].
The House Appropriations Committee recommended adding $50 million in general operations
and maintenance for "corporate information management" funds to the IT budgets
of each of the services and the Defense agencies, or $200 million total. The money would
be used "at the discretion of the service secretaries" to make investments in
"software and systems for joint service use."
The committee also approved adding $52 million in unrequested funds for the Navy
Standard Integrated Personnel System, $15 million for the Air Force Fuels Automated
Management System, $38 million for automated document conversion technology and $35
million for the Joint Logistics Systems Center. The latter recommendation would bring
JLSC's 1997 budget up to $274 million, an unexpected windfall for a program that, like
SBIS, has been repeatedly threatened with steep funding cuts.
The SBIS program's troubles echo those of other large DOD systems modernization efforts
that have been abandoned or restructured because of soaring development costs and a shift
to using commercial applications whenever possible.
The Reserve Component Automation System (RCAS), which was to have complemented SBIS at
the Army Reserves and National Guard level, was overhauled early this year after four
years and $600 million in false starts [GCN, March 18, Page 47].
But Paige dismissed the popular argument that SBIS' woes, like those of RCAS and
similar programs, would have been avoided by relying on commercial software instead of
developing custom code for the Army. "If so," he said, "then I would have
expected Lockheed Martin to have proposed adapting [commercial software] to the Army long
Lockheed Martin officials could not be reached for comment.
The requirements contract portion of SBIS, through which the Army can buy a variety of
off-the-shelf hardware and software, will not be affected by the funding reductions,