NEWS | March 4, 2009

DoD IT Procurement Too Slow: Cartwright

By Antonie Boessenkool

The current method of procurement for information technology is so slow that by the time software systems and the like are purchased, they're out of date, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright said March 4 at a conference for the IT industry.

"It takes longer to declare a new [program] start than the lifecycle of the software package," Cartwright told an audience of IT industry and Armed Services representatives at the eighth annual Naval IT Day, put on by the Northern Virginia chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

Aiming for a "perfect" IT solution is often the problem, Cartwright said.

"We have this mindset that somehow whatever we field has to be perfect, so we'll spend a life of an application's utility testing it to make sure it's invulnerable and makes no mistakes," Cartwright said. "Looking for the perfect solution is almost always a recipe for irrelevance, and we've proved that over and over and over again. "

The challenge facing the Defense Department with IT procurement isn't that technology is too advanced, it's that the culture for procurement isn't working and needs to change, Cartwright said.

"It's not technology. This is culture. This is the imperative to change and be convinced that that imperative is real and will advantage us," Cartwright said. Getting "the inertia going to get the system changed is the challenge that's in front of us. "

Cartwright compared the current method of IT procurement to the DoD's method for building an aircraft carrier.

Under the latter method, software DoD buys is "irrelevant before they even get to milestone A," he said.

Funding from Congress for IT procurement is another consideration.

"Congress is not a group of people who do not want to change. By the same token, their ability to change and change in rapid fashion with technology and business "" is challenged. "

Other speakers from the Navy and Marine Corps said the IT industry can help DoD move more quickly and efficiently with IT procurement, such as by sharing best practices, but also that DoD may not buy the most advanced solutions – on a large scale – that industry has to sell.

"Part of what we need to do is also recognize that we're not always going to use all of the most leading edge technology in large areas," said Terry Halvorsen, deputy commander for Naval Network Warfare Command. "We may use it to build a specific mission or to meet a specific requirement in small ways and then "" we'll adapt it.

"Those of you on that leading edge need to sometimes step back a little and think about the tactical, operational problems that we have, particularly with that balance between security and getting missions [done]," Halvorsen said.

The conference took place as the Navy and Marine Corps prepare to replace the massive Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, the largest IT outsourcing contract in the federal government, with a new structure termed the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN). NMCI will end when the $9.9 billion contract for the system, held by Electronic Data Systems, expires in September 2010. The Navy has said the NGEN system will give sailors and Marines more control over the network's operations as opposed to under NMCI.

A request for proposals for NGEN services has been expected this spring. However, that would be preceded by at least one additional industry day, which the Navy has pushed off for the last several months. One attendee at the conference said he doesn't anticipate the RfP will be issued this summer, given the delay for the industry day.

"I just don't see it happening," by summer, the attendee said of the expected RfP.

The assistant chief of naval operations of NGEN declined to give specifics about the timing of further steps for NGEN during his speech.

"I don't have the NGEN acquisition plan, because we're in a sensitive time," said Rear Adm. John Goodwin.

Goodwin said he expects to start discussing more specifics with industry "when we're a little further along," and in a matter of weeks rather than months.

"I trust you understand the position," Goodwin said. "I urge you to continue to attend the industry days will be scheduled at the appropriate time. "

NGEN will build on the Navy's information management structure that began to be put in place with NMCI, said Robert Carey, the Navy's chief information officer.

"As we move into NGEN, we take advantage of the fact that this network, this infrastructure, exists," Carey said. "When we rolled out NMCI, eight, nine years ago, we did not. We were actually building out that infrastructure and we still are. "

The goal for the Navy, as outlined in the Naval Networking Environment 2016 strategy paper put out by the Navy last year, is for anyone in the Navy to be able to log onto a PC anywhere in the system and access the data they need, Carey said.

But the acquisition system is a challenge, Carey added.

"Things are moving really fast. The acquisition system, and more importantly the budgeting system, move at a different pace," Carey said.

"Today, if most of you come in and say, 'I've got this great idea. I want to give it to you,' all of our money has been displaced," Carey said. "There is little agility in that system. When you go spend it on something else, an opportunity, you generally have to break something else.

"That being said, we have the opportunity within the (Federal Acquisition Regulation)" and other areas to adopt new technology, Carey said. "There's a lot of agility that affords us. We need to look at "" how do we move faster while maintaining the right levels of control on the system.

"We think we're doing that with things like NGEN," Carey said. "We believe we're on the right path with NGEN