Navy, Marines Reclaim Ownership of Computer Networks

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Navy and Marine Corps decided three years ago to take back ownership of their information networks that for the past decade had been managed by the private sector.

They have finally done it, officials declared June 27 as they announced the Navy selected Hewlett-Packard as the prime contractor of the “next generation enterprise network,” or NGEN.

Hewlett-Packard was awarded a five-year $3.5 billion contract to provide information-technology services to 800,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel at 2,500 locations nationwide. With this arrangement, the military effectively wrests control of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, or NMCI, from contractors and puts uniformed personnel in charge. The private sector will provide technical support, but the military will decide what hardware to buy and, most importantly, will regain “command and control” of its networks, said Sean J. Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

It’s been a decade of “growing pains” with NMCI, but the Navy now needs to put the past behind, Stackley told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

NMCI, and now NGEN, represent a microcosm of the Defense Department’s rocky path to modernizing its information systems over the past two decades.

Outsourcing the operations and maintenance of military information networks was a no-brainer in the ‘90s. The accepted wisdom at the time was that industry could do it better and cheaper. The

Navy pioneered the concept in 2000 with a $7 billion NMCI contract award to EDS Corp. which was the largest government information technology contract to date.

The private sector would own and operate the IT infrastructure, and the Navy would buy computer services, like it bought electricity or water.

Then Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon praised the NMCI contract for getting the government out of the business of owning and operating information technology systems. “The potential for increased efficiency, standardization, interoperability and better business processes is tremendous,” he said at the time of the EDS award.

But it soon became clear that IT services could not be purchased utility-style. The complexity of information operations, a growing reliance on data for military operations and greater pressure to protect networks from intruders made the fee-for-service approach unworkable.

In a 2003 interview, NMCI staff director Capt. Chris Christopher, acknowledged that there was much dissatisfaction in the ranks. “Everybody hates it,” he said. Sailors and Marines did not like to be told what brand or model computer they could use, and officials became concerned that the massive loads of data moving through NMCI’s 400,000 “seats” could not be properly secured.

The Navy decided in 2010 it would shift gears and do away with the NMCI model, in favor of a hybrid government owned, contractor operated network, dubbed NGEN.

Hewlett-Packard, which had acquired EDS in 2008 and continued to run NMCI, put together a new team to compete for NGEN. Subcontractors include AT&T, IBM, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. The losing bid was led by Harris and Computer Sciences Corp., with General Dynamics, Verizon and Cisco as subcontractors.

Stackley defended the Navy’s decision to move forward with the NGEN contract award days after the officer who was overseeing the program, Capt. Shawn Hendricks, was removed from command for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a contractor.

The contractor involved, said Stackley, was not associated with any of the NGEN bidders. Officials said Hendricks was not directly involved in the contractor selection.

Stackley insisted that the winner was selected because it provided a technically acceptable offer at the lowest cost. He pushed back on speculation that the Navy picked Hewlett-Packard because, as the incumbent, it would expedite the transition from contractor- to government-owned networks.

“This was extremely competitive,” Stackley said. “And oh by the way, the incumbent is not the incumbent.  Hewlett Packard is leading a team, but it’s a different team from the NMCI team.”
Under the Navy owned, contractor operated model, the vendor will procure the hardware at the government’s request, said Victor S. Gavin, program executive officer for enterprise information systems. He stressed that the hardware is “government owned at all times.”

The Marine Corps had been so unhappy with NMCI that it shifted its IT operations June 1 to a government-owned and government-operated setup.

“The commandant’s guidance to me several years ago was I want every Marine, private through general officer, to have the same service that I personally get. And that’s the perception right now in the Marine Corps, that that’s starting to happen,” said Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Nally, chief information officer of the Marine Corps.

The government now has a new role, said Stackley, not only on the technical but also on the operational side. “You cannot underestimate how difficult the transition is from a contractor owned, contractor operated 400,000-seat network to a government owned and a hybrid government operated contractor supported network,” he said.

Officials also are hoping that the NGEN model will help bring down costs. After pouring more than $10 billion into NMCI, the Navy wants in the future to have more visibility into where its IT money goes.

“NGEN gives more flexibility from the previous bundled solution, and provides the transparency of cost that we need,” said Barbara Hoffman, principal deputy CIO for the Department of the Navy.

Increasing worries about cyber intrusions also have motivated Navy officials to take over ownership of the networks as soon as possible. “In a government owned, contractor operated environment, we gain command and control, situational awareness and the ability to maneuver the network based on commanders’ intent,” said Rear Adm. Diane E. H. Webber, deputy commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command.

As conceived, NMCI was out of step with the needs of the military, Stackley said. “It started as an administrative network. Then it became clear that it was a tactical network,” he said. “The command and control of the network was one of the underpinnings of the NGEN strategy.”

Topics: C4ISR, Cybersecurity, Infotech, Architecture, Enterprise, Information, Netcentricity

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