House nips at NMCI budget request

House nips at NMCI budget request

If the House Armed Services Committee has its way, the Marine Corps will be released from the $6.9 billion outsourcing program that links the Navy and Marines to a single, enterprisewide intranet.

When completing work on the Defense authorization bill, the committee this month also called for slashing fiscal year 2002 funding for the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet by $120 million. President Bush had requested $647 million in funding, and the committee bill authorized $527 million.

No warning

Both measures came as a shock to Navy officials. 'They don't have a warm and fuzzy feeling about our budget strategy,' said Capt. Chris Christopher, a Navy deputy program executive officer for information technology. 'Obviously, we did not get the right story to them. We have not done as good a job as we should have done.'

Defense analysts agreed that the Navy and NMCI's lead contractor, Electronic Data Systems Corp., are not keeping Congress apprised of program developments.

'It's possible that Congress is sending a message to them, saying, 'Look, you guys said this thing would be the greatest thing since sliced bread ' that you could consolidate and save money. Why should we be giving you additional money to save money?' ' said Ray Bjorklund, a vice president of Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va.

The 2002 Defense Authorization Bill will come up for a vote by the full House this fall.

'NMCI is large enough and complex enough as a program as it is,' Bjorklund said. 'Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. It will give them a chance to bring the Marine Corps on later.'

Not if the Marines have any say in the matter. Corps brass said they want to be added now and that they have no idea where the committee got the idea to exclude them.

'The Marine Corps remains in support of the secretary of the Navy's NMCI initiative and is working with Department of the Navy staff to develop information to satisfy the committee's concerns and move the program forward,' the Marines Corps said in a statement.

Through NMCI, the Navy plans to consolidate 200 networks into an intranet, linking more than 360,000 desktop PCs.

It is one of the largest federal outsourcing contracts to date, which could be a reason why NMCI has received a high level of public scrutiny. But another is that lawmakers remain unconvinced that handing over Navy IT operations to a contractor is prudent.

Renewed attack

During the Aug. 1 committee hearing, members slammed NMCI's 'lengthy program delays' and raised questions about the Navy's funding and budget strategies'even though the service last year had to justify the program to Congress before awarding EDS its contract.

The most recent delays first came up in a memo last month from Linton Wells, acting Defense Department chief information officer, who said rigorous weapons systems testing would have to be conducted to exit a Congress-imposed strategic pause on the NMCI implementation. The pause limits the amount of work EDS can perform before the system undergoes Defense testing and a detailed report is handed over to lawmakers.

The Navy and DOD continue to meet twice a week to iron out a compromise.

The Navy and EDS are currently doing their own testing of the system. Navy officials said they would welcome an independent Defense reviewer to evaluate their tests and issue a detailed report. The more extensive operational test and evaluation process usually reserved for weapons systems, Navy officials said, should be put off until next year to avoid program delays.


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