Congressional panels blast oversight of Navy network project

Armed Services committees ask for regular updates on the acquisition strategy and schedule for the Next-Generation Enterprise Networks program.

In a statement accompanying the final version of the fiscal 2009 Defense authorization bill, the Senate and House Armed Services committees sharply criticized the Defense Department for lack of planning and poor oversight of a computer network that will serve Navy and Marine Corps personnel worldwide.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The Joint Explanatory Statement said Next-Generation Enterprise Networks "represents one of the largest, farthest reaching, and complex acquisition programs and technology deployments for the Navy and Marine Corps in the next decade." But the committees said they are concerned Defense has not paid enough attention to developing requirements and an acquisition strategy for NGEN.

Panel members said they are worried about a lack of transparency and dialogue with industry, and the planned transition of assets and intellectual property from the Navy Marine Corps Intranet to NGEN. The contract for NMCI, which EDS holds, expires in September 2010.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va., group that represents contractors, echoed some of the panel's concerns.

PSC member companies, which include systems integrators such as Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and SAIC, have so little insight into the Navy's strategy for NGEN that they "don't know what the Navy intends to acquire," Chvotkin said.

He added that Navy officials provided little new information and gave inadequate responses to questions during an industry day on Sept. 8.

Navy Chief Information Officer Rob Carey declined to comment as the final version of the bill has not been sent to President Bush. The House passed the measure on Wednesday and the Senate is expected to vote on it before Congress adjourns to give lawmakers a chance to campaign.

The committees directed Defense and Navy officials to submit semiannual reports that include: updated acquisition schedules, an assessment of how the NGEN fits with the broader Navy network environment; and the schedule, status and goals for the transition from NMCI.

The Joint Explanatory Statement contained several other technology-related directives. The panels asked Defense and the director of national intelligence to conduct a joint review of network bandwidth requirements for the armed services and the intelligence community during the next decade. Officials would need to ensure the bandwidth requirements could be met before fielding major weapons systems.

The Congressional Research Service said in a May 2008 report that the Army's major modernization program, Future Combat Systems, faces a potentially crippling shortage of the bandwidth needed to stitch together multiple weapons systems and sensors on the battlefield.

The final Defense authorization bill also contains provisions designed to ensure interoperability between Defense and Veterans Affairs Department electronic health records systems. It mandated that those systems adhere to "technology-neutral" standards and directed the Defense medical information technology community to work closely with the assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration and the Business Transformation Agency, "both of which have valuable experience in evaluating and selecting standards for large-scale enterprise systems."

The bill requires the Defense-VA Interagency Program Office to deliver a report within one year on the standards and guidelines it has developed. The Military Health System and VA plan to complete development of a new standards based systems architecture by the end of 2009.

Additionally, the Defense policy measure would keep the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack in business for another four years. An April 2008 report by the commission warned that the potential damage to the nation's technology infrastructure from an electromagnetic pulse generated by a nuclear weapon could be more crippling than during the Cold War when the United States feared such an attack from the Soviet Union.