Seven programs to watch in 2007

Incoming Defense secretary Robert Gates

Cherie A. Thurlby

Defense Transformation

Impact in '07: With the champion of transformation'former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld'now gone, the programs that were born from that effort could be in jeopardy, including Future Combat Systems, the Joint Tactical Radio System and a variety of others.

With the feeling on Capitol Hill that using supplemental budgets to pay for the war are a thing of the past, the cost of refitting and resupplying troops in Iraq will require deep budget cuts in longer-term development programs'many of which make up the DOD transformation strategy.

On top of the budget pressures, there have been notable stumbles in programs intended to make transformation a reality, such as the JTRS' ballooning costs. Estimated at $15 billion when work on the program started in 1997, now it has an anticipated price tag of $37 billion.

Despite these problems, incoming Defense secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his Dec. 5 confirmation hearing that transformation needs to continue.

'I would say that one of the things that I think is very important in the transformation is continuing to strengthen our capacity to fight irregular wars,' Gates said.

But outside experts are skeptical of the Pentagon's commitment.

'Donald Rumsfeld's ambitious, futuristic notion of military transformation has died in the alleyways of Baghdad,' said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank in Arlington, Va. 'Rumsfeld underestimated the human dimension of warfare and overestimated the degree to which traditional weapon systems had become obsolete. You really saw that in Fallujah'I don't know where we would have been without tanks.'

Federal Spending Database

Impact in '07: The Office of Management and Budget is trying to understand how to build a database that would, by Jan. 1, 2008, hold information on all federal contracts, grants, loans and other expenditures. OMB is developing a plan, which it will release later this month, detailing how agencies should collect and turn over data, including a list of standards and definitions the government must follow.

With less than 12 months to go, the biggest concern is how to collect data on more than $500 billion in grants agencies give out annually.

'The idea that this will be disparate, and agency-specific data sources will be pulled together by a Google-like process, does not seem to be reasonable,' said one agency CIO, who requested anonymity. 'Agencies are collecting information on grants, but the question is what is the best way to pull it all together.'

The CIO added that this is a doable task and the cost seems accurate, but OMB needs to decide whether agencies will use the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation or develop a central repository that can be combined with the contract data.

'They have to get past the idea that there is some magic Google way to pull this together and get down to the real work about where the data is stored and how to pull it all together,' the CIO said.

While grants pose the biggest challenge, many believe collecting the necessary contract data would need only some minor tweaks to the FPDS-NG.


Impact in '07: The SBINet program, an ambitious effort to gain control of the borders via improved technology, combines a high political profile with daunting technology and program risks.

SBINet's success or failure in 2007 will stand as both a defining legacy of Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff, who has given it high priority, and a watershed for DHS' shaky program management capabilities.

Previous border technology programs, such as the Border Patrol's scuttled America's Shield program, have alerted Congress and oversight agencies to the high risk of failure in the border security arena.

As a result, SBINet faces skeptical oversight from the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Integration and Oversight, DHS inspector general Richard Skinner and the Government Accountability Office.

One major criticism of SBINet is that the program management office is understaffed. In response, program manager Greg Giddens pledged during a hearing of the House subcommittee to hire more than 200 additional program management office employees by mid-2007.

But Skinner testified at the same hearing that when Giddens completes that hiring, 'The emerging organizational structure [will include] 65 percent of the 252 positions as contractors,' a proportion he called 'excessive.'

SBINet will begin 2007 by launching a Common Operating Picture project this month, completing the system design in April and deploying it immediately along parts of the southwest border.

Another 2007 priority is the $20 million Project 28, to deploy unattended ground sensors, radars, cameras and towers in the Sasabe area of the southern border's Tucson, Ariz., sector.

DHS plans to integrate sensor data via a network that will shuttle information among computers in Border Patrol trucks, partner agencies and mobile command centers.

An additional $55 million SBINet project for 2007 aims to gain control over a military weapons testing zone in the Yuma, Ariz., sector, using IT as well as improved roads and fences.

Networx telecommunications and Alliant IT governmentwide acquisition contracts

Impact in '07: The General Services Administration expects to award the $20 billion Networx contract in the spring and the $65 billion Alliant in the summer. Networx replaces the existing Federal Telecommunications Systems 2001 contract vehicle plus more network services.

It's not a sure thing, however, that agencies will take full advantage of these procurement vehicles, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. of Jenkintown, Pa.

'[The question is] still whether GSA can win the hearts and minds of agencies for an expanded range of programs,' he said.

Agencies still have plenty of momentum for managing and operating these functions under separate contracts and for owning their own hardware.

The Treasury Department early on had been one of the agencies flying in the face of the administration's desire for governmentwide contracts. Last month, however, after pressure from the administration and Congress, Treasury canceled its $1 billion departmentwide Treasury Communications Enterprise contract to move to Networx.

'GSA has a lot riding on the success of Networx,' Suss said, noting that the agency will use Networx to expand its business. It will be critical that agencies accept new services added to Networx, such as storage and call centers, he said.

Questions also remain for Alliant. Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, an industry association in Washington, said the proliferation of multiple-award contracts across the government'such as the Navy's Seaport-e and the Homeland Security Department's Eagle'has created uncertainty among vendors about whether agencies will steadily use Alliant.

'This is the 'Field of Dreams' question: If they build it, will customers come?' Allen said. 'GSA pissed off their DOD customers and time has not stood still as both customer practices and acquisition rules have moved. GSA has to figure out its value proposition in the face of the multiple-award contracts.'


Impact in '07: The FBI's Sentinel investigative case management system faces critical turning points in 2007, as the bureau's flagship IT project will serve as an emblem of whether the agency has the management skills to build a major new information sharing system.

The FBI granted a $305 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. last year for Sentinel systems analysis.

The Sentinel project this year will begin the rollout of the first of four deployment stages, under the eye of lawmakers'who plan to enact provisions requiring tight oversight of the project's management, contractor oversight and integration with the Justice Department enterprise architecture.

FBI CIO Zal Azmi has said that the bureau completed three steps to avoid the mistakes that sank the $100 million Virtual Case File project:

  • The FBI's business practices now conform to the design of the new case management system
  • Sentinel's software requirements have been approved by all stakeholders, so they won't shift as the project continues
  • The bureau established procedures to vet deliverables before accepting them.

Intelligence Community IT Reorganization

Impact in '07: Intelligence community IT policy and practices face fundamental reforms next year that will broaden and deepen last year's shakeup by the central CIO office. Look for transformed procurement, systems development and security practices.

Lt. Gen. Dale Meyerrose (USAF-Ret.), the intelligence community CIO, said in an e-mail to GCN that in 2007 his office would continue to focus on cross-agency processes, such as directives and governance structures, while emphasizing information sharing and outreach to partners, stakeholders and the public.

In 2007, 'We will institute portfolio and standard processes that provide aggregate analyses of investments, seams, architectures, and needs,' Meyerrose said.

One of Meyerrose's first reforms last year was a review of the intelligence community's certification and accreditation process. That consultative procedure developed seven new security guidelines, which now are in the process of final approval.

Meyerrose's C&A reform process departed radically from intelligence community traditions because the CIO office invited public comment on the security rules.
The intelligence community CIO office, which wields sweeping legal powers under intelligence reform law, plans to mandate collaborative communities and open forums as the new norm for requirements analysis and program development.

As for acquisition reform, the CIO office is driving a shift from 'big bang' system development to phased 'spiral procurement.'

The intelligence CIO chief endorses more use of commercial software and enterprise licenses, and stamping out customized software.

'Every line of customized software is expensive and a stovepipe to everyone else,' Meyerrose said.

Maritime Domain Awareness

Impact in '07: MDA is the Holy Grail of national security for the Coast Guard, a seamless fusing of information from hundreds of sources'military and commercial, airborne and seaborne'that provides a single comprehensive picture of everything in the maritime environment that could affect the U.S. economy, environment, security or safety.

Capt. Dana Goward, director of MDA for the Coast Guard, said some elements of the program are going fairly well, particularly those involving 'voluntary and cooperative' projects such as the Nationwide Automatic Identification System, a program to put high-tech transponders on boats voluntarily, similar to the way aircraft are identified by air traffic control systems. The Coast Guard released a draft request for proposals for NAIS in December, and the agency plans an industry workshop for later this month, he said.

But MDA is a wildly complex undertaking, and other aspects of the program are struggling in the early going. In a pilot program in Miami, for instance, the technologies tested couldn't distinguish between waves and boats, while long-range cameras to handle surveillance at ports and along coastlines covered only a fraction of the real estate.

Goward acknowledged that many of the national security or law enforcement portions of MDA have been moving far more slowly than expected.

'We haven't done much; we haven't progressed much beyond experimentation' in those areas, he said.

With the Coast Guard's other huge infrastructure program, Deepwater'a 25-year, $25 billion plan to completely overhaul the service's fleet'in serious trouble of its own, Congress and the administration will be paying a lot of attention to the MDA initiative.


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