HP upgrade project meets a NASA that's 'resistant to change'

HP's $2.5 billion contract to centralize space agency's end-user computer management not going smoothly, says NASA IG

The inspector general of NASA has issued a report that's critical of both Hewlett-Packard and the space agency for messing up a plan to centralize management of the agency's end-user computing under a $2.5 billion outsourcing contract.

NASA's IT managers, perhaps egged on by the agency's scientists and engineers, are resisting some of the changes to come with the plan for HP to consolidate personal computing hardware, mobile IT services, assorted peripherals and all the end-user services needed to support 60,000 users.

The resistance of NASA workers is only one problem cited by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin. His report spreads blame around for implementation delays.

In the report, Martin isn't suggesting that the project is a boondoggle is in the making. The report is more likely designed to serve as a wake-up for each side to get its acts together.

"We will continue working together to ensure the success of the project," said an HP spokeswoman in an email statement.

The report does cite some curious things.

At one point, subcontractors installing new equipment walked off their jobs. The workers were being paid based on the number of computers installed, but NASA users were turning them away.

HP officials told the IG that at the Goddard Space Flight Center, approximately 40% of the planned equipment refreshes were denied. NASA IT managers said users were refusing equipment either because they didn't order it or it was the wrong thing.

The HP project represents a radical change for the agency. NASA has long managed its IT "across a decentralized and disparate IT environment led by a management culture largely resistant to such change," said the IG.

Each NASA center employs its own CIO and IT staff, and the agency CIO "has limited visibility and control over a majority of NASA's approximately $1.5 billion in annual IT investments. It is not surprising that a move to an enterprise model encountered resistance," the IG wrote.

Ray Bjorklund, who heads federal market research firm BirchGrove Consulting, said consolidating IT management will be hard for the agency. He suspects that there are lot of scientists and engineers at NASA "probably wanting to hang onto their own IT infrastructure, and are not feeling like they can trust support being handled by shared services."

The IG's report consists of 17-pages of he said/she said disputes, in which each sides places blame on the other.

Under the contract, awarded HP, in 2011, HP was charged with replacing the agency's laptops and desktops with new HP systems within the six months. The goal wasn't met.

Space agency officials blamed the unmet deadline on the contractor's lack of understanding of the NASA IT environment. HP, for its part, said the agency's IT managers didn't have the hardware specs or complete inventory ready.

The refresh is now due to be completed in April.

The initial contract runs for four years, through 2015. There are two 3-year options to extend, for 10 years total.

The delays in the new equipment refresh caused one interesting complication.

According to the IG's report, the contract required that encryption software be installed on the new systems, something that most legacy equipment lacked. A theft of a laptop computer in Oct. 2012 "prompted NASA IT officials to devote significant time and money to expediting the deployment of encryption software on agency computers."

In the end, the IG wrote, NASA paid HP an additional $220,500 to undertake the "hurried" encryption effort - a task and expense that would have been unnecessary if the contract schedule had been met.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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This story, "HP upgrade project meets a NASA that's 'resistant to change'" was originally published by Computerworld.

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