Taking a hit

Thomas R. Temin

Few acquisition proposals in recent memory have generated as much grumbling as the General Services Administration's SmartBuy. At the recent Executive Leadership Conference in Hershey, Pa., it was a leading topic'of complaint.

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. first suggested the governmentwide software-licensing initiative this summer, just before he left his post as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mark Forman then tossed it off to the bureaucracy just before he stepped down in September as OMB's administrator for e-government and IT.

Now GSA must figure out how to implement a program that, as far as anyone can tell, wasn't thought out beyond a one-page executive summary.

SmartBuy's stated goal is to aggregate the government's software requirements through enterprise licenses to get the best price and lower industry sales costs. Easier said than done.

A moment's reflection raises so many questions that the concept of SmartBuy seems unattainable. What contract vehicles would the government use? Would or could such deals cover software delivered as part of integrated solutions? Several vendors have wondered how the educational aspect of sales gets accomplished under 90 percent discounts. What about upgrades and support?

The questions go on and on.

Neal Fox is GSA's point man for SmartBuy. He is making a valiant effort to figure out how to put together the pieces that have been dumped in his lap. But, he lamented recently, 'We are arrow receptacles.'

Admittedly, a government increasingly dependent on software needs a rational approach to acquiring it, at least a more rational approach than the piecemeal one now pursued through dozens of competing contracts. The Defense Department has had some early success with its Enterprise License Initiative, which will likely be melded with SmartBuy at some point.

So far, though, the project has produced nothing but skepticism and should be rethought from the ground up. The government needs to have clearer goals, and industry needs to be more creative and less backbiting.

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