A strain on relations
Thomas R. Temin
Is it my imagination, or are vendors getting more aggressive lately?
Perhaps it is the economic slowdown or fear that information technology money will be slow in coming under the Bush administration. But recent exchanges seem to herald a more in-your-face stance by businesses.
For example, Lockheed Martin Corp. recently made a highly publicized offer to the Federal Aviation Administration to take over the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System from incumbent Raytheon Co. Like other FAA projects, STARS has been troubled with delays and disputes between agency management and the air traffic controllers, but it finally looks as if the agency and contractor are making progress [GCN, March 19, Page 23
]. It's an odd time for a new dance partner to try to break in.
This gambit came only a few weeks after Boeing Co. made an apparently unsolicited offer to develop a new air traffic control system at its own expense and risk. It probably didn't help that soon after, FAA announced it would award the upgrade for its en route air traffic control system to Lockheed Martin.
Another example took place during a recent conference in Washington. A senior technology manager was describing his agency's plans to test a new architecture for its multipetabyte storage system. At the question-and-answer segment of the program, a saleswoman from a systems integrator pointedly asked what plans the agency had for outsourcing the project, how large the business opportunity would be and when the agency would establish a task force to study outsourcing.
And, by the way, her company wanted a seat on the task force.
That was certainly putting one's cards on the table, which every vendor has the right to do. But the manager was visibly caught off guard. The agency had been operating the storage subsystems for many years; several vendors were already involved. It hadn't yet started to think in terms of whether an outsourcing possibility existed.
Are vendors being overly aggressive or are agencies being insufficiently forthright? Probably a little of both. But as business conditions tighten, the fabled government-industry partnership will be strained.
Thomas R. TeminEditorial director