Navy Delays Starting the NGEN

December 2010
By Daniel P. Taylor, SIGNAL Magazine


The Next Generation Enterprise Network—the successor to the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet—will give the Navy more direct control of its network.

The transition to NMCI’s successor will take longer but eventually will give the sea service more control.

After 10 years of service, it is time to say goodbye to the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet—almost. The massive network serves more than 700,000 sailors, Marines and civilians and makes up about 70 percent of the total Navy information technology footprint ashore. It originally was supposed to finish its time with the Navy in early fall to make way for the Next Generation Enterprise Network. Instead, the sea service has extended the life of the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet and will spend $3.4 billion on a continuity-of-services contract to keep the network around for another 43 months.

Officials announced in April 2009 that a continuity-of-services (CoS) contract with Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) vendor Electronic Data Systems—since acquired by Hewlett-Packard Company—would be necessary until the Navy can implement the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN). Navy officials said at the time that the reason for the three-and-a-half-year gap between the NMCI contract expiring and NGEN being fully operational was that they underestimated the complexity of the transition.

The CoS contract began on October 1 as the NMCI contract expired with absolutely no change to how the network operated—exactly what the Navy wanted, says Capt. Scott Weller, NMCI program manager.

“The good news is that, on the first, everything worked perfectly,” he says. “The CoS contract is an NMCI CoS contract. It’s still NMCI and will continue to be NMCI into the future.”

About 384,000 workstations and laptops in more than 3,000 locations use NMCI Navywide, and the network is second only to the Internet in size worldwide, according to a Navy fact sheet. Sailors, Marines and civilians even use the secure network on their BlackBerry devices and other wireless platforms.

The end user of the network will see no difference as the service transitions to the CoS contract, but it does represent major changes in some contractual and legal aspects of the network, Capt. Weller notes. The Navy wants to be able to choose whether it will use government employees to run aspects of the network and have key roles in how it is operated, as opposed to vendor Hewlett-Packard having all of the say, which is how the service envisions running NGEN as well.

“We wanted to take a greater role in the management of the enterprise,” Capt. Weller explains. “We had direct control and oversight in NMCI, so that didn’t really change, but we wanted to grow a cadre of government employees to do more of the work directly hands-on. We also wanted to own infrastructure, wanted the option to hold infrastructure, and we wanted to hold competitions.”

The Navy purchased intellectual property from HP and is in the process of purchasing some network infrastructure. “As we determine we need various categories of infrastructure, we will purchase them from Hewlett-Packard, giving us a little more flexibility,” the captain says.

This does not mean the Navy has made a decision on how much the government will get involved in the running of the network; it just means the service wants to have the ability to make that decision down the road, he notes.

“A good thing about the way we negotiated the [CoS] contract, it gives us time and flexibility to do that transition,” Capt. Weller says. “We may choose to make it a 100 percent government work force or we may choose to make it a zero percent government work force. That’s a decision for Navy leadership.”

The Navy will move away from the original NMCI construct, which was a large, long-term contract with one vendor that used its own work force. Instead, over the course of the CoS contract, the service will split NGEN into five segments and have a separate competition for each.

The first competition will be for the independent security operations oversight and assessment section of NGEN. The Navy anticipates releasing a request for proposals (RFP) for that segment in the first quarter of fiscal year 2011 and awarding a contract in the third quarter of fiscal 2011—a year after the original NMCI contract ended.

The next segment will be for transport services, with an RFP in the second quarter of fiscal 2011 and an award at the start of the second quarter of fiscal 2012. As for the third segment, end user hardware, the Navy will have the flexibility to purchase hardware as needed from Hewlett-Packard under the contract, with an award anticipated in the second quarter of fiscal 2012. The fourth segment is enterprise software licensing, with an award also set for the second quarter of fiscal 2012. The final segment is enterprise services, which has an RFP set for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2011 and an award in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012.

“Over those 43 months, [we] will compete various segments of the current enterprise, and those vendors, whoever wins those awards, will take over during that 43-month period in a phased approach,” Capt. Weller says. “That’s the high-level strategy and that’s a feature of the CoS contract to allow that transition from the current model. We have the option of a multivendor environment.”

The CoS contract will represent a new relationship between HP and the Navy, says Patricia Tracey, Hewlett-Packard vice president of industry and development for defense.

“We were the people who were ordering equipment and were choosing sources,” she notes. “Now the Navy has the freedom to choose the source. This will be the first time we’ve done that. The contract will protect both them and us. I do believe that, for the Navy, there will be challenges in that they’ll have to have appropriations for procurement to buy equipment … whereas in NMCI they were able to receive that as a service.”

More important than procurement is the operation of the network, Tracey says, noting that the Navy already has started hiring people to take on those roles. “It’s not completely clear on how that’s going to shift,” she says, but the Navy certainly will “have a more direct role in commanding and controlling operation of the network.”

Despite the shift in how the Navy will approach network services in the future, Capt. Weller praises the performance of NMCI over its tenure, while acknowledging there were “bumps along the way.”

A 2006 Government Accountability Office report noted that the percentage of satisfied end users of the oft-maligned network consistently fell short of the Navy’s target of 85 percent. Capt. Weller says the Navy has learned a lot since then and has improved the network drastically. NMCI ran into problems initially because of the size and complexity of the program.

“At the beginning of the contract, neither the Navy nor the contractor had an understanding going in of the sheer numbers of applications and networks we had and how varied the network was,” he states. “It put both the Navy and the contractor in the tough position of having to transition from that very mixed environment into the cohesive enterprise environment that we have today.”

Kevin Durkin, Hewlett-Packard vice president for Navy programs, says his company “took a lot of hits” over NMCI, but Hewlett-Packard has recovered to produce a solid network that is essential to the Navy and Marine Corps. Durkin and Tracey say the Navy may be making a mistake by taking a different acquisition approach with NGEN.

“When the Navy started this NGEN acquisition, I’m not sure it was started with an appreciation for how complex and capable NMCI is,” Durkin says. I think they have that now. I think it would serve the Navy and the Marine Corps well if they would re-look at this acquisition strategy.”

Tracey says the Navy would “benefit from an acquisition strategy similar to what the Navy had the first time—a single integration leader that brings in other vendors.

“Industry is so different from 2000 to 2010,” she continues. “A strategy that depends on pulling the best of breeds with multiple large vendors is a much more confusing relationship in 2010 than in 2000. We would recommend competition for end-to-end integration.”

The Navy is taking a “risky approach” that will cost more, Tracey explains. “Only they know how ready they are for that approach.”

Capt. Weller acknowledges there will be challenges to this approach, and the Navy will meet those challenges over the course of the CoS contract. “The next step is to continue to manage costs,” he notes. “There are pieces of it that we need to further define and refine as we understand more about NGEN transition approach.”

There are challenges in managing a multivendor environment as well, Capt. Weller says. “The ability to have increased command and control and management of the network—we have to learn how to do that,” he continues. “That’s not a huge challenge, but something we haven’t done to date. So we need to get our processes and procedures in place. I don’t think there is any risk there, it’s just about getting up to speed.”

Daniel P. Taylor is a freelance writer.