Navy, DOD chiefs at odds over NMCI testing

Navy, DOD chiefs at odds over NMCI testing

BY DAWN S. ONLEY | GCN STAFF

Installation of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet hit a snag recently: Navy and Defense Department brass can't agree on the best way to proceed with testing.

Navy officials, including Joseph Cipriano, the service's program executive officer for information technology, and Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, met last week with Rear Adm. Robert E. Besal, commander of Defense's Operational Test and Evaluation Force, to iron out a compromise.

Cipriano said the Navy hopes DOD will sign off on a plan to have its independent testers observe contractor testing of NMCI and issue their own evaluation.

This is the Navy's suggestion for working around a strategic pause imposed on NMCI by Congress. The pause limits the amount of work contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp. can perform before NMCI is tested and a detailed report is handed over to lawmakers.

Currently, EDS can assume responsibility for 15 percent, or roughly 42,000, of the seats covered by the contract.

But the idea of testing took on a different meaning to the two sides.

'Contractor testing will be completed in October or November,' Cipriano said. 'That testing, based on our understanding, was going to be the basis for exiting the strategic pause.'

But Linton Wells II, Defense's acting chief information officer, had other ideas. In a memo sent to top Navy officials on June 29, Wells suggested that more rigorous weapons systems testing would have to be conducted for NMCI to clear the evaluation hurdle and for EDS to expand deployment of services.

Linton Wells
Linton Wells
'The decision points that we established last fall as a result of congressional and OMB guidance are critical in determining if moving forward with your proposed schedule is the best path,' Wells said. 'As the DOD CIO, I want you to know I fully support the Navy Department's efforts, but these issues must be resolved before I can provide the mandated Clinger-Cohen Act certification to Congress.'

Wells declined to offer additional comment.

Don't stop now

Cipriano and Rick Rosenburg, NMCI program executive for EDS, said the matter boiled down to a misunderstanding. Cipriano said he agrees that full operational testing and evaluation should be conducted in mid- 2002, but that it shouldn't be demanded now as a condition to continue work. He said the Navy plans to meet with Wells within a week to work out a compromise.

'We're doing a full evaluation, but the issue is whether that is needed to exit the strategic pause,' Cipriano said.

The outcome remains unclear.

Ray Bjorklund, a vice president for Federal Sources Inc., a consulting firm in McLean, Va., said it's only right that the mission-critical networks of NMCI abide by the acquisition model set up years ago by Defense.

'For any major acquisition, there is a requirement to justify to Congress that this is still a worthwhile investment,' Bjorklund said. 'It takes more energy on the part of the Navy.'

A program of independent tests will probably appease Congress, he said.

At least one lawmaker, however, seems to be siding with the Navy and EDS. In a May letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness, said tests and evaluation 'should reflect the efforts found to be effective and cost-effective in the commercial world.'

The service agreements set for NMCI create a structure for ongoing reviews of NMCI performance, Weldon said. The contract also establishes both penalties and incentives to assure that performance lives up to the agreements, he added.

'I urge you to conduct a rigorous assessment without over-interpreting those requirements and unnecessarily extending the certifications process,' Weldon said.

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