The Government Accountability Office issued a scathing report on March 11 criticizing Navy plans for the $50 billion Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN). The project is supposed to replace the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, the largest intranet in the world and by most accounts a system that is meeting user needs well. The Navy has never offered a convincing explanation of why it needs to spend billions of dollars to replace the existing network, and now GAO is raising doubts about whether it is even capable of doing so successfully. According to the report — first disclosed by insidedefense.com — the Department of the Navy “does not have a sufficient basis for knowing that it is pursuing the best approach for acquiring NGEN capabilities and the program’s cost and schedule performance is unlikely to track to estimates.”
GAO recommends that the defense department limit further investment in the new network until it reviews the acquisition approach the Navy is using. According to auditors, the Navy failed to adequately consider alternative approaches to acquiring NGEN: “Specifically, the cost estimates for the respective alternatives were not reliable because they were not substantially accurate, and they were neither comprehensive nor credible.” The report continues, “Further, the operational effectiveness analysis, the other key aspect of an analysis of alternatives, did not establish and analyze sufficient measures for assessing each alternative’s ability to achieve program goals and deliver program capabilities.” GAO contends the acquisition approach the Navy actually chose is riskier and likely to be more costly than other approaches because it entails “a higher number of contractual relationships.” The current Navy Marine Corps Intranet organizes all contractors under a single integrator, Hewlett Packard.
GAO goes on to make several other damning observations about NGEN, including the fact that the Navy “does not have a reliable schedule for executing NGEN” and that the program was approved “despite the lack of defined requirements.” In sum, it seems that the Next Generation Enterprise Network is about as fouled up as an acquisition program could be at this stage in its development — which presumably explains why it is already running late. However, the real problem with NGEN isn’t process or policy, but simply its purpose: the network isn’t needed. The Navy already has a network providing all of the necessary functionality, and the system the service proposes to replace it with will be substantially less secure due to the introduction of numerous seams into an architecture that is currently seamless. In other words, NGEN is a costly step backward at a time when the Navy is having a hard time making ends meet. Surely there are better ways to spend the billions of dollars allocated to NGEN than developing a less secure network that no one really needs.
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