Transportation Gets Moving
IT Venues, Agreeable Deals Mark Effort to Improve Nation's Transit Systems <@VM>ITS Improves Travel
By Ed McKenna
The Transportation Department is choosing more manageable information technology ventures and using flexible contract vehicles as it begins wide-ranging projects to upgrade the nation's transportation systems.
Those plans include modernizing the country's air traffic control system ? a 16-year project estimated to cost a whopping $34 billion through fiscal 2003 ? and ambitious efforts to improve marine and land transportation. Simultaneously, the agency is attempting to revamp its own internal operations.
"Information technology has moved well beyond traditional office automation to become a driving force in shaping the future of transportation," said Eugene "Kim" Taylor, the Transportation Department's acting chief information officer.
From search-and-rescue functions to intelligent vehicles and databases on transportation fatalities, IT systems now in the works will affect dramatically how people and cargo get safely and swiftly from point A to point B, he said.
Overall, the agency is slated to spend about $2.2 billion for information technology in 1999. That places it behind only the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services in IT spending among the government agencies, Taylor said.
The Federal Aviation Administration is allocated the lion's share ? $1.8 billion ? of the Transportation Department's IT budget. The department's priorities are:
*upgrade the nation's air traffic control system.
*complete year 2000 software fixes.
*improve communications within the department and with the public.
Taylor credits government reform initiatives, such as the Clinton administration's National Performance Review and the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, as well as FAA reform efforts over the past few years for helping to focus his agency's IT efforts.
"We began looking at how we could get the best value out of our IT investments and how we could get those investments done fairly quickly," he said. The agency's Information Technology Omnibus Procurement, a multiple-contractor, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity procurement vehicle, grew out of that search.
Launched in 1996, ITOP gave the Department of Transportation and other agencies a single source for IT services from 20 contractor teams led by a mix of industry heavyweights such as Computer Sciences Corp., Unisys Corp. and Science Applications International Corp., and smaller businesses such as Signal Corp.
ITOP "has allowed us to be a lot more responsive" to the government's needs, said Jack Goldstein, sector vice president for logistics and transportation at SAIC's offices in Vienna, Va. With open-ended contract vehicles like ITOP, "you can turn something around more quickly," he said.
"It [also] has been a very lucrative contract," said Bill
Douglass, ITOP manager for SAIC, noting the company has racked up $185 million from the seven-year contract since it was launched in 1996.
Under this contract, SAIC is supporting the agency's year 2000 service bureau and working with the Coast Guard, another agency under Transportation Department's umbrella, he said. The company also has received task orders from the Army and Air Force under the contract vehicle, he said.
"It has been a very promising program," said Stephen Kalish, vice president of transportation systems for Computer Sciences Corp.'s Civil Group in Falls Church, Va. "We have learned how to prosecute IDIQ contracts tasks with it and have done very well on the tasks we've won," he said.
CSC, which has been very selective in the tasks it has taken using this vehicle, should earn about $26 million through this contract, Kalish said. Most of that ITOP revenue comes from software development and systems engineering work.
ITOP also has been a boon to small businesses, such as Signal Corp., which has tallied $187 million in task orders from the contract, according to Barry Kane, executive vice president for the Fairfax, Va.-based company.
Based on its success in competing against such stalwarts as SAIC and Unisys, the company opted to graduate early from the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program, said Kane.
Along with contracts from the Coast Guard and the office of the Transportation Department's secretary, Signal has landed sizable ITOP task orders from the National Archives and Records Administration ($21 million) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ($32 million).
ITOP, which has been a huge success, reached its acquisition ceiling of $1.1 billion about four years ahead of schedule. Its next iteration, ITOP 2, which is being rebid, will have a ceiling of $10 billion and should be even friendlier to small businesses.
Unlike the original contract vehicle, it will be possible to set aside contracts for small businesses and 8(a) companies under ITOP 2, said Diane Litman, manager of the Transportation Department's Information Resource Management division. Contract awards are expected in January 1999.
Even with its success, ITOP is just one of many federal contract vehicles that Transportation agencies can use, Taylor said. "We encourage making good business decisions as opposed to trying to mandate one course of action for all of the departments," he adds.
In fact, the FAA has not participated much in ITOP. In 1996, the FAA was given a waiver by Congress from many of the procurement requirements placed on the rest of the federal government, said Taylor.
However, at that time Congress directed the FAA to develop and implement an acquisition management system addressing its unique needs and providing for timely and cost-effective IT acquisition. Under that ongoing effort, the agency has revamped its management style and now fosters closer, more cooperative relationships with its vendors.
"The FAA completely opened the doors once they did the acquisition reform, [and] we are genuinely partners with them in every sense," said CSC's Kalish.
A member of the blue-ribbon committee that helped shape FAA reforms two years ago, Kalish said the Free Flight Program Office set up this summer is evidence of that cooperative environment. Representatives from CSC, Lockheed Martin Corp. and other industry and government officials are studying ways to provide pilots flexibility to determine more efficient flight paths using new technology.
This cooperative approach is not confined to FAA, said John McLean, business manager for the Coast Guard at Unisys Federal Systems, McLean, Va.
"Doing business with the government in general and [Transportation] in particular has become much more of a collaborative effort," he said.
Awarded the Standard Workstation III contract by the Coast Guard in 1995, Unisys has begun to work more closely with the service over the past two years to iron out contract details that might inhibit the program's progress.
"We have regular meetings with both the technical and the contracts people within the Coast Guard with the aim of trying to make the system better. And, to a large degree, I think we've succeeded," he said.
Valued at $180 million, the five-year Standard Workstation III contract entails replacing 24,000 workstations and up to 1,500 servers throughout the entire Coast Guard with new systems using Windows NT operating systems.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation is pressing ahead with critical operational and administrative responsibilities, including year 2000 fixes projected to cost $321.5 million.
The agency's CIO office is "the departmental organization that oversees all of the pieces, but, in reality, the secretary has made each of the operating administrators responsible for fixing their [own] systems," said Taylor.
The Transportation Department has come under a great deal of pressure from Congress to step up its efforts. In his latest report card on the year 2000 problem, Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, upgraded the agency's grade for its Y2K efforts slightly from "F" to "D."
Significant progress is being made, said Taylor, noting 51 percent of the department's systems are now year 2000 compliant.
"I'm cautiously optimistic, as we move into the next year, we will meet the governmentwide milestones" set by the Office of Management and Budget for fixing the systems, he said.
The agency is making contingency plans in case all the systems are not repaired on time. OMB has set a new target date of March 1999 for completion of all aspects of the Y2K repair project.
Modernizing the nation's air traffic control system is another daunting challenge for the agency. The massive effort was restructured in 1994 after delays and huge cost overruns associated with the Advanced Automation System, formerly the effort's centerpiece.
The AAS failure was a lesson for the FAA and the contractors, said Kalish. "The big-bang systems are very difficult to manage, but the smaller incremental ones are much more successful," he said.
Costly, high-risk initiatives such as AAS, with a price tag of about $7.6 billion, were at least a partial catalyst for Clinger-Cohen, which urged the government to take a more modular or step-by-step approach, said Taylor.
In that spirit, the current air traffic control initiative includes more than 200 separate projects, many of which are computer software intensive. The largest of these in terms of cost is the Wide Area Augmentation System, led by Raytheon Co. of Lexington, Mass.
CSC is working on several air traffic control projects, including the Center TRACON Automation System and the Departure Spacing Program, currently deployed at airports in the New York metropolitan area.
In addition to these large operational projects, the agency is using IT to facilitate its communication with the public and within its own organization. In August, for example, the department launched on its Web site a new search engine and database called DOTBOT. It allows the public access to a wide variety of documents from 126 sites, said Litman.
With the help of Signal Corp., the department also put its dockets on the Web in October. Dockets are detailed public records of the department's rule makings and judgments.
The Docket Management System consolidates documents from the department's nine separate docket rooms into a single database. It is the culmination of a six-year effort to convert the documents from paper to electronic format and then put them online.
"We were actually about two or three years ahead of schedule" thanks to technology advances, said Pat Prosperi, the principle for information services at the Transportation Administrative Services Center.
Specifically, Internet development tools became more easily accessible, cheaper and easier to use, said Ron Kreigh, program manager for dockets technical support at Transportation.
"We use Microsoft Visual Studio and [Allaire's] Cold Fusion," he said.
"Signal has worked under two different contracts for the [Docket Management System]: one covering the operations and ongoing support of the existing system, and the other covering the development of the Web-enabled version," said Signal's Kane.
The company has provided support for the system since 1996, when it took over the project from SRA International Inc., Fairfax, Va. SRA developed the original system through Transportation's Volpe Center in Cambridge, Mass., according to Charlotte Boeck, administrative officer in Transportation's Office of General Counsel.
Prosperi said: "In total costs, we are approaching the $3 million mark, but we are also saving almost $1 million a year at DOT just in reduced staff to process dockets and reduced space [from] all these paper files."
And in the near future, the system will begin accepting electronic submissions. "We actually have had that capability for about two or three months, and we are in the final testing stages," she said.
Other departments are expressing interest in developing similar systems. "We have been working very closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to try to develop something for their dockets," said Prosperi. The systems also may be used to process Freedom of Information Act requests.The Department of Transportation also is working with local governments and private industry to improve the nation's transportation infrastructure. One key example of this is the Intelligent Transportation System program.
Begun officially with the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, the ITS program is helping to develop a host of separate projects that use information and communications technologies to improve safety, productivity and mobility of surface transportation.
While deploying these programs is left largely to the states or localities, the Transportation Department plays a critical research and development role.
"We are doing a lot of studies and experimentation," said Eugene "Kim" Taylor, the Transportation Department's acting chief information officer. He noted these efforts are meant to serve as a catalyst for industry, which can transform the results into concrete projects.
One key research and development project is the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative, which incorporates crash avoidance features, travel information and driving assistance systems.
According to the Transportation Department, these systems will include provisions for warning drivers, recommending control actions, intervening with driver control and introducing temporary or partial automated control of the vehicle in hazardous situations.
Overall, the Intelligent Transportation System program "is moving along well, with demonstration projects all over the country," said Jack Goldstein, sector vice president for logistics and transportation at Science Applications International Corp.
"There are real examples of where things are going better because of ITS activity," such as the Smart Corridor project in Los Angeles, which reroutes traffic from Interstate 10 the busiest freeway in the world if that highway is jammed because of accidents or other problems, he said.
"Another example is the [Chesapeake Highway Advisories Routing Traffic] system, which is the Maryland statewide traffic management system," he said.