A silver lining
Thomas R. Temin
Last month, according to federal statistics, the number of people applying for unemployment benefits nationally rose 9 percent. A single data point doesn't make a recession, but when you combine it with other economic signs, it's pretty clear what's going on.
The collapse of the dot-com boom coincided with a slowdown in the economy as a whole. Car sales are down, as are computer sales. Interest rates have fallen. For some computer companies, their biggest competitor is the market in used-but-still-new gear from bankrupt start-ups.
Government tax receipts aren't yet showing the effects of the economic slowdown universally, but many are feeling the pinch. Iowa, Louisiana, North and South Dakota and Tennessee have reported lower revenues. California is dealing with the fiscal fallout from its peculiar energy crisis. Some governments are dipping into rainy-day funds.
All of this will have an impact on state, county and local government information technology programs and budgets.
At the least, expect IT initiatives to get closer scrutiny that they might have during the late 1990s go-go years.
If you have a record of successful deployments'working applications delivered on time and within budget'congratulate yourself. You'll have built up some equity in your credibility account, which helps when budgets are tight.
Systems managers should also expect more emphasis from lawmakers and the public on systems such as those supporting welfare delivery and unemployment compensation. Although less glamorous than electronic government, such systems will be stressed by a heavier workload during a tough economy.
E-government isn't going away, but initiatives will require more justification.
On the other hand, with the dot-com-millionaire-next-door phenomenon having cooled, government is starting to look like a pretty good place to work.
You can offer much to bright IT people looking for the next challenge: real budgets, the chance to make a difference in the lives of millions, stable employment and tough technical hurdles. Use the slowdown to reverse the talent drain that's plagued government for years.
Thomas R. TeminEditorial director