INTERVIEW: Rep. Tom Davis, IT procurement reformer
Find and train the right people
As chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) oversees all agency IT matters and procurement practices. He has headed the subcommittee since it was established last year.
Rep. Tom Davis
In the past legislative session, Davis introduced the Services Acquisition Reform Act and two bills to deal with the looming federal work force shortage, especially for IT personnel. He recently sponsored a bill to enact emergency procurement legislation that would let agencies acquire technology much as they buy commercial items and that would raise the simplified acquisition threshold to $25,000 from $2,500.
Before coming to Congress, Davis for five years was vice president and general counsel of PRC Inc. of McLean, Va., a technology and professional services firm. He also chaired the Fairfax County, Va., board of supervisors for two years.
Davis represents the 11th district in Virginia, which includes the technology corridor of Fairfax County. He was elected to the House in 1994.
Davis holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Amherst College and a law degree from the University of Virginia. He served in the Army and spent eight years in the Virginia National Guard and Army Reserve.
GCN staff writer Jason Miller interviewed Davis at his Washington office. GCN: How is the Office of Personnel Management doing on the human capital issue? Is it moving fast enough to hire qualified IT workers?DAVIS:
No, they are not moving fast enough, but these are major changes for the government. I would move a little more slowly to build the appropriate base of support in the regime because over time this is one that inevitably changes.
The jury is still out in terms of how everything is coming together. We will watch how OPM progresses on human capital issues in an oversight role later this year. It is probably a little too early to come out legislatively with some of the changes that we would make.
What we are finding is more and more outsourcing because we don't have the ability to do it in-house, but that is a mistake. We have to understand there is a lot of work being done outside right now that could be done inside if we had the right people and gave them the right training and the proper pay. Outsourcing decisions should be driven by efficiencies, but right now they are driven by default because we don't have the in-house capability to perform. That is not a good reason.GCN: The human capital issue is intertwined with the acquisition work force issue. In the administration's push for outsourcing, managing projects becomes more important than ever. Do agencies need to increase their acquisition management staff?DAVIS:
The issues are interwoven. The acquisition work force is dwindling in record numbers over the next five years. If we don't develop new programs to attract and retain acquisition workers, we will continue to find examples of poor contract management and end up costing more money, instead of rewarding good people to stay in government.
Additionally, we are seeing cases where contracts going to the private sector are not managed effectively. Decisions are made to send contracts to the private sector for work we could have kept in-house.
A significant recruitment tool in the private sector is ignored by government. In the private sector, they will train you and keep you up to date. Maybe government workers don't get paid as well, but we need to give them training so that when they are ready to leave, they are relevant.
We bring people in now and not only do we not pay them, we don't train them. When they leave they must be retrained because their skills are obsolete.GCN: GAO's Commercial Activities Panel will produce a report May 1 with recommendations on what to do with the A-76 process. What would you like to see happen about A-76?DAVIS:
Let's see if they can come to any consensus, and if they can, it makes our job a lot easier.
A-76 is a noble experiment gone awry. I think one of the things the Commercial Activities Panel is trying to fix is how to get to cost savings. What is the best way to decide whether work stays in or out? A-76 isn't even utilized by half the government.
We will react to the report. I think the legislative package ought to work that way instead of my saying what I would like them to do.
The problem is, there is nothing to take its place. This is one way to get on the table whether contracts should be in or out of the government.
It is not a very effective way when you look at it. It's very burdensome and takes a long time. I mean, it's two years or more if you want to tie it up.
It ought to be much quicker and much crisper. Government has to be given a fair chance on these procurements, particularly on ones it has been doing.GCN: How do you think agencies are doing in IT security and critical infrastructure protection? Does the need for increased security make having a federal CIO that much more important?DAVIS:
The next terrorist attacks will be on the government's Web sites, and that could be disastrous. We have not paid enough time and attention to protecting those areas.
The General Accounting Office continues to find pervasive weaknesses in federal IT. Information security remains a high-risk problem. This is five years after it was identified as a governmentwide concern.
In my opinion, there needs to be centralized, governmentwide management of information security, like a federal CIO. If not that, then give [Office of Management and Budget associate director for IT and e-gov] Mark Forman wider latitude so he has authority to get it done.
He knows what needs to be done, give him the authority. It is not clear that he has it. He's a good man but needs to be backed up and have the clout.
You don't have to call it a federal CIO. You can keep it at Mark's job, but you need someone with clout who can look at program systems and make sure they tie to other systems.GCN: I know you are taking a wait-and-see approach to how Forman is doing as the de facto federal CIO. What areas would you like to see his office concentrate more on?DAVIS:
He is heading in the right direction with the kind of things he is trying to do. There are too many single-agency procurements for similar IT services.
What Mark Forman needs to ensure is that agencies are managing IT resources more effectively within an agency and across agencies, to achieve economies of scale.
For instance, the Health and Human Services Department should embark on enterprise licensing for software across all of its agencies to achieve greater internal efficiency and communication along with cost savings'something they've recently begun to do.
Additionally, agencies should understand similar mission goals that exist from agency to agency in order to avoid duplicating efforts. This is what is envisioned for the 24 e-gov initiatives'handling similar agency functions across government, like OPM's management of the five human capital management initiatives.
I'm hoping that we see greater movement in this direction so best practices are shared more effectively to achieve cost savings and greater efficiency.GCN: Federal IT spending would increase according to the administration's 2003 budget. What areas need more attention?DAVIS:
It is a significant increase, and there may be more. The administration said it would grade agencies on improvement over the next year and use the budget as a tool to change how agencies manage their IT spending. I think it is a great opportunity.
I continue to think there is money lost in the procurement process. Funding for IT is going up significantly.
I would like to see more money spent on IT security research, like the National Institute of Standards and Technology research, so we are able to keep up with new technology practices. I think it is something we will ask for.GCN: Your subcommittee is paying close attention to OMB's e-gov initiatives, but what about the rest of Congress? How interested are they?DAVIS:
I don't think most members focus on it. Unless you sit on one of the committees with jurisdiction you just don't have it on your radar screen.
That OMB has taken such an aggressive role this time, I think, is a result of the administration's understanding that the budget should be used affirmatively.