Congress takes the wind out of Navy's intranet sails

Congress put a question mark on the Navy's multi-billion dollar intranet plan last week by adding language to the fiscal 2001 Defense authorization bill withholding funds for the project.

The version of the bill approved by the House Armed Services Committee requires a thorough financial and policy analysis of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) project before it moves forward. The provision prohibits the Secretary of the Navy from using funds for the project in fiscal 2001 until Congress receives appropriate documentation.

The Senate Armed Services Committee inserted language in its version of the bill cautioning the Navy to comply with existing acquisition regulations in completing the project.

Both Congress and the General Accounting Office have voiced concern over the Navy's intranet initiative, which could cost $16 billion over eight years. The intranet will provide service members and employees-both in the United States and abroad-access to voice, video and data communication through a sole service provider.

Critics of the initiative cite the Navy's lack of a preliminary business case plan and sketchy funding proposals as serious risks. Under the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, agencies are required to submit a detailed and thorough business case to Congress for all large-scale IT projects.

The Navy has said it will fund the NMCI project with money already allocated for existing IT contracts and services.

The Navy did not specifically include the initiative in its fiscal 2000 and 2001 requests for funding.

Ron Turner, deputy chief information officer at the Navy, said the service has been working diligently with members of Congress and congressional staffers, visiting the Hill frequently to deliver briefings on NMCI. Turner noted that overall, "absolutely nobody [on the Hill] has questioned what we are doing" in the sense of establishing an extensive intranet, but that concerns revolve primarily around cost, personnel and small business procurement issues.

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