Navy memo prompts Apple complaint

Richard A. Danca
Government Computer News

April 3, 1989

A routine message to Navy computer buyers set off a barrage of contentious phone calls last month -- one ot them apparently threatening legal action -- between Apple Computer Inc. and the Navy.

The memo directed Navy facilities to purchase only computers with "80286 Intel chip technology" following the end of the military's contract for desktop microcomputers, which ended Feb. 28.

The memo, sent by the offices of the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT) in Norfolk, Va., included other requirements defining AT-compatible MS-DOS machines and required buyers to buy from the General Services Administration schedule.

The message specified that only CINCLANTFLT can approve "microcomputers with unique missions which cannot be satisfied by specifications cited above."

Though a call from an Apple sales representative allegedly threatened legal action unless the Navy revised the memo, it was all a misunderstanding, an Apple official said.

Apple wanted only to preserve open competition, said Phil Dunkelberger, director of Apple Federal Systems marketing. "We believe this thing got moving faster than it ever was supposed to," he said.

C. Lloyd Mahaffey, who directs Apple's federal group, was a little more frank. "This thing got kind of nutty," he said. Both Dunkelberger and Mahaffey said that Apple does not threaten legal action.

A Navy official concurred. "they were not going to war with the Navy," said Capt. John MacMillan, a deputy to Navy IRM director Rear Adm. Paul Tobin.

"There's a difference between talking and accommodating and pushing around," MacMillan said. Apple did not try to push the Navy around, "and they wouldn't want us to push them around," he said.

Tobin has recommended that "the appropriate office at CINCLANTFLT" revise the message to remove the objectionable language, MacMillan said. He noted that Tobin is a one-star admiral and the commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Adm. Powell F. Carter, is a four-star admiral.

Talk of Lawyers

Both Apple and Navy officials said the incident would not affect the past good relations between the two organizations. Dunkelberger called the Navy "our largest account as a corporation."

The incident began late last mounth, when Apple sales representative Larry Weiss called Navy IRM and spoke with Brian Baker, an aide to Tobin, demanding that the Navy immediately revoke the message, Baker said in a memo to Tobin.

In the memo Baker said Weiss asserted, "that the enclosed CINCLANTFLT msg [message] is illegal, that it violates competition in contracting rules." Baker's memo also said, "Apple says their layers will be talking with our lawyers unless the CINCLANTFLT msg is revised to specify performance and functionality vice [instead of] proprietary products."

In an interview, Baker said "the whole thing was low-key? and amicable, "but he did mention his lawyers, that's for sure." The conversation took only about 10 minutes and was only one small problem among others he had to deal with that day, he said.

In his memo, Baker recommended revising the message. In a paragraph that ended, "Apple can't tell us how to spend our money," Baker suggested that the Navy "specify MS-DOS interoperability/functionality, drop reference to proprietary chip technology, and specify that the system unit, including MS-DOS emulator broads, may not cost over $1,700."

Baker noted that, "DOD, of course, has gotten beaten up on this and is increasingly specifying performance and functionality, not proprietary products."

Apple's Dunkelberger said, "When we protest anything, we always use the channels available to us through procurement channels. We don't walk around and posture." Apple had no intention of suing, he said, and "Sales reps have no authority to even hint at that."

In the past, Apple has succeeded in forcing the Army to eliminate MS-DOS as a requirement in its microcomputer purchases. More recently, Apple played a role in the Air Force's decision not to require OS/2 as the operating system in the Desktop III procurement, Dunkelberger said.

Appeasing Apple

Baker made his recommendation because, "It will cost Navy little to modify the message as recommended; per Mr. Weiss, this action would appease Apple." However, he said, "Day-to-day procurement decisions will be driven by cost considerations. I would expect Apple computers with MS-DOS emulator boards to cost somewhat more than their PC competitors."

AST Research Inc., Irvine, Calif., sells its Mac286 coprocessor board at a list price of $1,599. The board also requires an MS-DOS-compatible disk drive. At deadline, AST had not negotiated a GSA schedule price for the Mac286 board.

Baker's memo says a Navy procurement lawyer "very hesitantly offered off-the-record opinion that hardware standardization (logistics) argument may not be as valid as software standardization."

Someone in the Navy leaked the original message to Apple, and someone also leaked Baker's memo, Dunkelberger said. Weiss is a sales representative in Apple's Federal Systems office in Reston, Va., and is responsible for sales to the Navy, Dunkelberger said.

The message was addressed to Atlantic Fleet shore activities, the six Navy Regional Data Automation Centers, the commander of the Naval Data Automation Command, the Chief of Naval Operations and the commanders of the Pacific Fleet and the Navy in Europe.

COPYRIGHT 1989 Cahners Publishing Associates LP