Administration continues to support Navy intranet despite delays

President Bush's 2004 budget proposal demonstrates the administration's continued support for a multibillion-dollar effort to consolidate Navy and Marine Corps computer systems into a single, massive intranet, the project's director said Wednesday.

If lawmakers approve the $1.6 billion the administration allotted for the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) project in 2004, the computers slated to connect to the intranet should all be hooked up by the end of next year, said Rear Adm. Charles Munns, director of NMCI. In fiscal 2003, the Navy will spend a total of $1.4 billion on the transition to the intranet, which is running at least a year behind schedule.

The Bush administration's support of the project is particularly important as the United States prepares for a possible war in Iraq, said Kevin Clarke, a spokesman for Electronic Data Systems Corp., the main contractor for NMCI. The project will "provide a critical upgrade in information and network security at a time when the [Defense] Department's networks are under increased threat of cyberterrorism," he said.

NMCI is designed to increase and streamline information sharing among the roughly 300 Navy and Marine Corps bases in the United States, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, Iceland and Japan. The internal network is also intended to protect sensitive information from cyberattacks. The Navy estimates that it will cost $9.5 billion through fiscal 2009.

In October 2000, Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) won a five-year contract to provide technology, maintenance and help desk support for more than 400,000 Navy desktops and 200 networks. But progress on the project has been slower than expected because of delays in the testing phase and a failure to identify tens of thousands of existing applications that should be either eliminated or moved onto the intranet during the huge consolidation effort.

President Bush on Oct. 29 signed H.R. 5647, a bill extending the Navy's five-year multibillion contract up to seven years, which would take the contract through September 2007. But the Navy and Marine Corps have the option to extend the contract an additional three years through the end of fiscal 2010 if necessary, Munns said.

There has been significant progress in "winnowing down the number of legacy applications that we will transition to NMCI," Munns said. "But we still have farther to go."

A second challenge will be to "change the naval IT culture from that needed for operating its many local independent networks to a culture supporting a single enterprise intranet," he added.

But the project is moving forward and has received steady support from the Defense Department, Clarke said.

As of Feb. 5, project leaders had ordered 158,000 workstations. EDS was responsible for connecting 121,000 workstations to the intranet and of those, 57,000 are already hooked up to the system, far more than the 20,000 that had been connected three months ago.

The Navy will try to get lawmakers to authorize an additional 150,000 workstations for NMCI, Munns said. The House Appropriations Committee had voiced concerns about the problems with legacy applications in early July and had suggested limiting the program rollout to the 160,000 workstations already authorized by the Pentagon until these problems could be resolved.

Munns said that the Defense Department agreed earlier this month that the required progress on identifying legacy applications had been made and that the department is in the process of notifying Congress.

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