Wyatt Kash | IT's Achilles' heel
Editor's Desk'Commentary: A hobbled acquisition system could prove to be government IT's weakest link. Is Congress up to the task of fixing it?
Information technology managers
won't find many surprises in the 450-
page report being delivered to members of Congress
this week on the sagging state of federal
The report, prepared by the 13-member Acquisition
Advisory Panel established by Congress,
delivers a detailed summary of the monumental
challenges agencies face today buying
federal goods and services. It also makes some
80 recommendations, many of which have been
proposed before, but which carry fresh weight
following hearings with more than 100 witnesses
from the public and private sectors.
Much of the report focuses on what can be done
about the increasing complexity of government
procurement and growing
concerns about how much
government work is being
farmed out to contractors.
Spending on government
contracts has nearly doubled
during the past six years, from
$219 billion to $415 billion.
But the report also points
to structural issues in a beleaguered
that undermines the
ability of IT managers to put
technology to work.
One is the widely documented shortfall of
trained government acquisition workers ' particularly
those with five to 15 years' experience.
The results have been predictable: Procurements
are often delayed, poorly defined, and prone to
bidding conflicts and protests ' or suffer from
no bidding at all. Lengthy procurement cycles increasingly
handicap agencies trying to keep up
with rapidly changing technologies.
A second issue is the seismic shift toward the
procurement of services instead of products. An
estimated 60 percent of government purchases
now go toward services contracts. This is old
news to IT departments, which have been pitched
by vendors for years on the merits of turnkey
computing solutions. But the rapid move toward
shared data centers, virtual networks, mobile
computing, software as a service and other
changes puts a whole new set of demands on government
IT acquisition specialists and the performance-
based contracts they must administer.
Congress, as usual, is confronted with a tangled
system that has failed to keep up with the
times ' and a shortage of experienced government
workers to deal with it. Sadly, unless this
Congress defies the odds, few of the panel's
worthy recommendations are likely to be
adopted, leaving already short-staffed IT managers
to hobble along on an Achilles' heel of
federal acquisition ailments.Wyatt Kash, Editor in chief