ICE-MAN is an example of good management

We now have fresh evidence that federal employees have the right stuff managerially and
technically. We should be proud of their performance.


I'm referring to the Integrated Computing Environment'Mainframe and Networking
program, the Federal Aviation Administration's controversial eight-year, $250-million,
competitively-awarded, best-value contract with the Agriculture Department's National
Information Technology Center in Kansas City. ICE-MAN was principally a replacement for
the Computer Resources Nucleus (CORN) program with additions.


The migration of FAA applications to their new host was done on schedule. There are
significant lessons to be learned from this experience. The FAA-USDA team has shown that
despite many obstacles, you can complete this kind of work in 12 months.


The FAA initiated ICE-MAN in January of last year. CORN was coming to the end of the
five-year base period of a 10-year contract with Electronic Data Systems Corp. The CORN
procurement was initiated back in 1988, awarded in February 1992. It actually got under
way in September 1992. By 1997, though, FAA was operating under relaxed procurement rules.
So USDA's implementation of ICE-MAN occurred only 11 months after the procurement was
initiated.


What made ICE-MAN controversial was that the request for proposals drew responses from
both USDA and private contractors. FAA's evaluation found no big differences among the
technical solutions offered. But it found a 15 percent cost differential between the
winner and the closest competitor.


That's one reason ICE-MAN has been one of the most visible information technology
procurements in recent years. It brought into question what conditions, if any, let the
government compete with the private sector. Many questioned whether the government should
perform any common administrative functions at all.


As Congress debates enacting a law to prohibit public-private competition, federal
officials will be watching. The outcome has implications for both outsourcing and agency
cross-service agreements.


The Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 is the government's make-vs.-buy
guide. It must be an integral part of any outsourcing decision. To be sure, A-76 was
applied late in ICE-MAN's acquisition process. The analysis was done in two weeks. Yet
neither OMB nor the General Accounting Office found fault with FAA's reasoning.


Beginning the weekend of Nov. 14, the players began a rigorous, 84-hour implementation
schedule. Not all commitments were met as planned. Go and no-go decisions sometimes went
into the final minutes. Exhaustion. But they pulled it off.


Now, when federal IT executives are reeling from such issues as year 2000 code fixes,
lack of conformance to the Government Performance and Reform Act and Information
Technology Management Reform Act, security, archiving, loss of staff and funding cuts, you
gotta love it when you see good work.


Everyone wins when a procurement is executed properly. The losers will become better
competitors in the future. That's what competition and choice are all about.


Wally O. Keene is a principal with the Council for Excellence in Government in
Washington. He was a team leader on the National Performance Review and director of IRM at
NASA and the Health and Human Services Department.


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