Navy intranet contract slated for late summer

klunney@govexec.com

The Navy will not award a contract for its $10 billion intranet project until August, two months behind schedule.

Congressional concern over funding for the project has slowed the department's momentum in getting the initiative off the ground, but a spokeswoman for the Navy said the inquiry would not affect the project's overall timeline.

"This will not impact what will happen in October fiscal 2001," the spokeswoman said. The first phase of the plan is scheduled for October, when fiscal 2001 begins. If the Navy began actual implementation any earlier than October, fiscal 2000 would count as one of the program years.

The Navy/Marine Corps intranet (NMCI) will provide service members and employees here and abroad access to voice, video and data communication through a sole service provider.

The Navy is currently preparing responses to questions-ranging from the Navy's funding proposals to personnel strategy-from lawmakers. The Navy spokeswoman said the department hopes to get them to Congress by the end of June. Then Congress has sixty days to review the responses. The General Accounting Office will do an assessment as well, a source close to the project said.

The department was planning to award the NMCI contract in June. Four industry bidders are vying for the initial five-year contract, which comes with a $10 billion price tag. After five years, the Navy can extend the contract for three more years.

The contractors' best and final offers on the project were submitted to the Navy two weeks ago.

Many critics, including Congress, GAO and some Navy officials have characterized the project as ill-conceived, taking issue with the Navy's lack of a business case plan and inadequate risk assessment.

The House fiscal 2001 defense authorizaton bill requires a thorough financial and policy analysis of NMCI before it moves forward. The provision prohibits the Secretary of the Navy from using funds for the project in fiscal 2001 until Congress receives documentation justifying the effort.

The Senate Armed Services Committee inserted language in its version of the fiscal 2001 defense authorization bill cautioning the Navy to comply with existing acquisition regulations in completing the project. An amendment to S. 2549 calls for a phased implementation of NMCI, allowing only 15 percent of the total number of work stations to be part of the program in fiscal 2001. All shipyards and depots are barred from joining the intranet until a year after the project is underway.

Despite Congressional scrutiny, the project remains afloat. Ron Turner, deputy chief information officer of the Navy, has said that lawmakers are supportive of the project in general, and that concerns have focused on cost and personnel issues.

"The Navy clearly seems to understand the depth of the Hill's concern [over the specifics of the intranet], and appears to be working very hard to appropriately 'answer the mail'," the source said.

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