Managers deem Navy's intranet plan unseaworthy

klunney@govexec.com

The Navy's intranet plan took yet another beating recently, this time from the Federal Managers Association, which expressed concern over funding and the demoralizing effect outsourcing will have on federal employees.

FMA President Michael B. Styles sent letters on May 3 to congressional leaders involved in the issue, urging them to put the brakes on the project, which would provide the Navy with a uniform global communication system through a single contractor. Cost estimates for the project range up to $16 billion over eight years.

"In addition to being a far too costly and unfunded initiative, this direct contracting initiative undermines the most important aspect of the Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act by eliminating competition between the federal and private sectors," Styles wrote.

The FAIR Act requires federal agencies to make lists of jobs that could be contracted out. Agencies must also justify their outsourcing activities under the act.

Last week Congress questioned the soundness of the intranet plan 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 documentation justifying the effort.

According to Navy management analyst Patricia Armstrong, FMA president of chapter 21 in Cherry Point, N.C., the organization is concerned about federal employees being displaced and the loss of institutional knowledge as a result of outsourcing. She emphasized the importance of federal employees at the local level who are familiar with Navy procedures and who can troubleshoot on the spot.

"At Cherry Point, we have a fantastic IT staff with a wealth of knowledge," said Armstrong.

But Ron Turner, deputy chief information officer at the Navy, has said that there is no entity within the Navy that does the type of work required for a project of the NMCI's magnitude.

"Laying cables is not the Navy's business. We are asking them [industry] to come in and do those types of functions," said Turner.

Employees affected by the project-those performing network management, network administration, or help desk functions-will be assigned to new functions. Turner has said his office is not anticipating any widespread layoffs as a result of the NMCI. A clause in the project contract stipulates that if employees do not want to change functions, the prime vendor must offer them comparable positions on the intranet project if they are qualified.

Armstrong said the Navy needs to have a better plan in place that focuses on the individual funding and human resource issues facing each area. She also said the Navy should test the intranet project on a small scale initially, using prototypes to measure successes and take heed of failures-a sentiment shared by Congress and the General Accounting Office, among others.

The NMCI contract is scheduled to be awarded in June, and the Navy hopes to have the intranet up and running by December 2001. It remains to be seen how the recent congressional action will affect that timeline.

The Federal Managers Association has members in more than 25 federal departments and agencies.

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