AF flies with the times

If you don’t think times have changed, the Air Force’s latest PC
buying move just might convince you.

The service’s numbered Desktop procurements have come to an end. Now the Air Force
will use blanket purchasing agreements to buy PCs and related gear [GCN, Feb. 22, Page 1].

At one time, the Air Force made big news awarding the laboriously crafted
indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity Desktop contracts.

And for good reason. For one thing, the contracts, popular with buyers in the service,
could put a vendor on the map. The old Zenith Data Systems Corp. comes to mind.

The Desktop procurements’ high visibility and prestige could also get vendors into
hot water. Unisys Corp.’s money-losing stumble into PC making for Desktop III is
legendary in federal contracting circles.

It was a different era, in contracting and in technology. I remember having just joined
GCN after Desktop IV was awarded. Because of protests under the old procurement process, I
think it took a year before anything was delivered under the buy. Imagine that happening

On the technology side, the Desktop series started when it was still remarkable for
large organizations to widely deploy PCs. In the early years after the IBM PC arrived on
the scene, companies such as General Electric didn’t permit most workers to have
them. PCs were considered time-wasters.

The Desktop programs reflected a time when the government didn’t just specify PCs
but instead wrote long technical specifications that agencies hoped would be interpreted
by bidders as what government users wanted: industry-standard PCs.

Today, buying information technology products is more realistic, at least in theory.
Rather than paying inordinate attention to specs for standard building blocks, agencies
first, look at their missions; second, determine the output required of systems that
support those missions; and, third, buy products to meet them.

Some agencies aren’t yet there, of course, but the Air Force’s Standard
Systems Group is showing a strong streak of realism in doing away with IDIQs for commodity

Thomas R. Temin

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