Fourth quarter a dry season for agency PC buys

The No. 1 desktop PC configuration for federal buyers right now is a 300- or 400-MHz
Pentium II with 64M of RAM and a 6G hard drive, according to agency buyers and vendors.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is buying them.


Spending from July through September, when agencies generally use up year-end dollars,
was more a whimper than a bang, vendors said. It’s not that agency buyers don’t
want the latest hardware advances, they said. It’s that the dollars were not there to
use up.


The fast 100-MHz motherboard bus is an advantage in 350-MHz and faster Pentium II PCs,
said Bob Munro, IRM coordinator at the Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research
Center in Maryland.


But the center’s fiscal-year buys ended in early September except for emergencies,
Munro said, so that USGS could reconcile its budgets. “Buying a computer is not an
emergency around here,” he said.


The Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, recently
bought nine 300-MHz Pentium II PCs with 64M of RAM, 4G hard drives and 17-inch monitors
through a blanket purchasing agreement with Dell Computer Corp., said Sgt. Gene Lewis, a
network administrator.


About six months earlier, the command bought 100 Micron Electronics Inc. PCs with
200-MHz Pentium II processors, 32M of RAM and 2.1G hard drives, he said.


“People aren’t buying Pentium 300s anymore, not with the pricing and
technology available,” said Sandra J. Wine, a computer systems analyst at the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Sales on NOAA’s blanket purchasing agreements with three PC vendors have been
steady at about $2 million per month through August, she said. The BPAs are open to buyers
throughout the Commerce Department.


Other federal managers, particularly in the Defense Department, said they had no money
to make year-end buys. Some said the drought resulted from increased use of General
Services Administration Information Technology Schedule contracts, which have allowed
agencies to buy more steadily through the year.


“Everyone’s wondering when the flood’s going to happen,” said
William Davis Sr., president and chief executive officer at Pulsar Data Systems Inc. of
Lanham, Md. Pulsar had a spike in sales last October and November after a slow fourth
fiscal quarter, he said.


“If we’re buying, it’s very limited,” said Maj. Mark Hunt, field
systems chief at the Army National Guard Bureau. “In years gone by, we’ve had
dollars from other organizations,” which the National Guard Readiness Center could
use at fiscal year’s end. It hasn’t happened this year, he said.


“We haven’t bought any [PCs] this quarter,” said Col. Paul Violette,
chief information officer for the Office of the Army Inspector General, which has 1,100
PCs. “It wasn’t in our plans.”


“We just had our budget whacked,” said Andy Wurst, a computer specialist at
the Navy hospital in Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif. “We’re not going to be buying [in
September] due to a budgetary cutback.”


Not all DOD agencies are running on empty, however. The Provost Marshal’s Office
at Fort Riley, Kan., plans to buy as least a dozen Gateway Inc. Pentium II PCs with at
least 350-MHz processors, 512K cache, 128M synchronous dynamic RAM and 8.4G hard drives.
Gateway will deliver them by the end of October, said Norma Ford, a computer specialist.


Sharp drops in memory prices mean that 45 percent of the Dell Dimension PCs bought by
federal agencies recently have had 128M of RAM, said Mac McGowan, Dimension brand manager
at Dell’s federal marketing group.


Agencies probably will order network interface cards in all the Dimension PCs they buy
in the near future, he said. And more civilian and DOD agencies are ordering DVD-ROM
drives in their PCs for simulation and training use, McGowan said.


More than 50 percent of agencies that buy Micron PCs now want Microsoft Windows NT
Workstation 4.0, said Harry B. Heisler, vice president and general manager of the Nampa,
Idaho, company’s government systems division.


Mark Thoreson, inside sales manager at Government Technology Systems Inc. of Chantilly,
Va., said he has noticed a split in buyer demand between 266- and 400-MHz Pentium II
systems. Agency buyers are asking for 64M of RAM and at least 6.4G IDE hard drives, he
said.  

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