Army seeks single portal for servicewide education

Army seeks single portal for servicewide education

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

AUG. 3-Army Industry Day in Washington on Wednesday drew hundreds of representatives of educational institutions and online learning providers to advise the service on shaping Army University Access Online.

The draft request for proposals for the $600 million servicewide education initiative will come out Aug. 11 at dssw.army.pentagon.mil/dssw/index.html, and the final RFP around Sept. 8.

Asked why the Army is planning a new educational initiative when so many training options are already available, Brig. Gen. Kathryn Frost, the adjutant general, said the reason is "the vision of a single portal. There's a wealth of distance learning on the Internet now. Soldiers are overwhelmed by the opportunities. We believe a single portal accessible to wide choices will say to soldiers, 'These programs have been vetted by the Army.' "

She said Fort Knox, Ky., alone is paying 147 individual distance-learning providers, and that the complexity of dealing with so many is "mind-boggling." The opportunity for a free education, she said, "is a major reason for enlistment. The single portal must ensure that every provider is accredited and will be held accountable." She said credit transfers will be possible for "self-motivated learners" who want to stay in the service and earn college and graduate degrees.

"We need consistency-a single integrator to hold accountable," said assistant Army secretary Patrick T. Henry. He and other officials would not discuss the fee structures for the prime contractor and subcontractors, but Henry said he hopes for "a commercial contract at a firm, fixed price."

Asked why the Army is taking the Web browser route instead of using a more sophisticated broadband network, Lt. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello said, "Even the military is still looking for a dedicated network that goes everywhere. This will leverage all the means-dial-up modems, cable modems, LANs. We've got to use what's out there." Cuviello is director of information systems for command, control, communications and computers.

On the Industry Day show floor, representatives of Electronic Data Systems Corp. and IBM Corp. indicated their companies will bid as prime contractors. Smaller companies such as Aspen Systems Corp. of Rockville, Md., and A&T Systems Inc. of Silver Spring, Md., also were putting together partnerships to bid as primes.

Hardware vendors Gateway Inc., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. showed off notebook and thin-client computers for the online learning initiative, which will furnish each active-duty soldier at a participating installation with a notebook PC, printer, Internet account, equipment maintenance and help desk assistance.

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