Grants system makes tracks

Federal Transit Administration officials credit luck and a no-frills approach for
faster-than-expected completion of the client-server Transportation Electronic Award and
Management system.


The agency is nearly a year ahead of schedule in fielding the dial-up version of its
mainframe TEAM grants administration system, officials said. FTA administers $5 billion
yearly in federal transportation grants.


“Our charter was to get it out as fast as we could and to duplicate all the
functionality of the old system it replaced,” FTA chief information officer William
Underwood said. Now that the novelty has started to wear off, everyone has ideas about how
to improve things, and no one is shy about asking, he said.


As a small agency, FTA is accustomed to having contractors on-site, filling 75 percent
of its staff positions. This time it took a new direction: off-site outsourcing of the
application’s development and maintenance.


“We’ve never totally outsourced like this before,” Underwood said.


Bob Dinkel, senior vice president for the contractor, Computer Associates International
Inc.’s global professional services division, said the FTA assignment “is one of
what we hope to be many outsourced environments.”


As many as 1,300 of TEAM’s 2,000 users—in state agencies, local governments,
transit agencies and FTA—took part in the code development via weekly conference
calls. “It’s an object-oriented environment, so we used incremental
prototyping,” said Rajat Bhatnagar, project manager for CA’s global professional
services.


FTA had done its homework in advance by re-engineering and thoroughly documenting its
business processes.


“The outlines were very well done, and we took it from there in terms of
programming,” Bhatnagar said.


Every Thursday morning, users received CD-ROMs containing a portion of the application
with the most recent code changes. That went on for about a year while the developers
tested their work and trained transit officials to use the system before going live a few
months ago.


The application, written in CA-Ingres II, is a client-server version of the
green-screen CA-IDMS application that ran on an Amdahl Corp. mainframe under IBM OS/390.
The agency’s year 2000-ready mainframe still supplies data to the new application.


CA’s Ingres gateway to IDMS is installed on the TEAM application server, where it
replicates data to IDMS Release 14 and collects the IDMS transactions. “Ingres and
IDMS have different native formats, but the gateway makes the Ingres II application and
database think IDMS is an Ingres format,” Bhatnagar said.


The application server, a mirrored dual 400-MHz Pentium II Xeon PowerEdge 6300 from
Dell Computer Corp., runs Microsoft Windows NT 4.0. The 10G TEAM database has room to grow
on internal RAID Level 5 storage arrays with a capacity of 144G.


“We maxed out all the bays,” Bhatnagar said.


The TEAM application server has secure connections to the Transportation
Department’s electronic payment and financial accounting applications. Some TEAM
users have 64-kilobit/sec frame relay connections to the TEAM application server at
Computer Associates’ secure computer facility in Reston, Va. Others have switched
Internet access over four T1 leased lines coming into the contractor’s facility.


Computer Associates’ own system and network management software, CA-Unicenter TNG,
manages and backs up the Windows NT application onto a 40G digital linear tape library
server. Bhatnagar said the turnaround time for authorizing grants has dropped from 60 days
to eight days or less.


“There’s a whole process we go through before we’ll take your
application,” Underwood said. Signatures with personal identifier numbers will
continue to control the authorizations until FTA gets a usable public-key infrastructure,
he said.


Labor Department officials, who have a role in managing the transit awards, also use
the TEAM application.


FTA officials said they have kept abreast of developments in the U.S. Electronic Grants
System, a governmentwide reinvention project spearheaded by Bradley Smith at the Federal
Railroad Administration. But the two separate grant management applications will
interoperate only after FTA has readied TEAM for the Internet.


“We’ll meet at the Web,” Underwood said.


Until then, TEAM supports Web access but not online processing. When the Windows
application discovers a native IP address with Internet capability, “it automatically
routes you down that path, like any Windows 95 or Win98 application does—a pleasant
surprise,” he said.


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