CIO: Follow industry's lead

The Defense Logistics Agency is modeling itself after the private sector by relying on
commercial products and by boosting efforts to recruit, train and retain information
technology professionals, said Carla A. von Bernewitz, the agency’s chief information
officer.


Government must be willing to change its culture to take advantage of information
technology, von Bernewitz said at a recent seminar sponsored by Computer Marketing
Associates in Tysons Corner, Va.


“The hardest thing about technology is not the technology but the culture within
organizations that makes it difficult for them to take advantage of the latest tools
available,” she said.


Government and the Defense Department are no longer the leaders of the information
technology industry, she said.


“It’s the private sector that spurs technological advances within information
technology these days, and so we must be willing and able to change our buying and
evaluation patterns to take advantage of this,” she said.


Von Bernewitz advocates taking advantage of private-sector advances in systems
unification and in purchasing less-expensive commercial products.


“There is no reason that I can think of that we should not be taking advantage of
those advances, especially since so many of the issues that government faces and the
issues that the private sector faces are so similar,” she said.


“Succinctly put, we are both trying to make sure that we have the kinds of skills
and technology that you need for the kind of business that you are in,” she said.


There is one critical difference between the struggles of the private sector and the
travails of the public sector—retention of information technology professionals, von
Bernewitz said.


“For us one of the most difficult tasks has been competing with the private sector
for personnel,” she said. “We simply are unable to compete with industry in
terms of salaries, and that can make things difficult for us.”


That shortcoming can also be a blessing, von Bernewitz said.


“We do spend a lot of time on professional development within the
government,” she said. “We send people to schools, to training courses and we
have, in my opinion, some of the brightest people in information technology because of
that.”


But low salaries can be a difficult obstacle to overcome, she said.


“Within government there are excellent opportunities to learn and to become an
expert in any one of a variety of specialties,” she said.  


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