20 years and counting

Thomas R. Temin

Anniversaries always prompt people to look for themes, compare the present with the past, make predictions.

In overseeing this 20th anniversary issue of GCN, I've been struck by the constancy of things more than by how much has changed.

Not that the government IT world is static. The vendor roster is radically different from even five years ago, with PC vendors from ALR to Zeos out of business, for instance. The big indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts are no longer mainstays at agencies. And homeland security needs are altering government priorities.

But we humans don't change as much as we like to think we do. So the problems of managing all the money and technology persist from year to year. Many of the old themes recur, albeit against different backdrops.

Consider Moore's Law, for instance. It is often misstated and misunderstood. Gordon Moore, the integrated circuit pioneer, said in 1965 that transistor density would double every 18 months. Computing power has risen in tandem.

But Moore's Law is a human phenomenon, not a technological one, because it is the scientists and engineers who keep doubling transistor density.

Unfortunately, applying that computing power to solve problems is as much an art as it is a science. Why? Because politics, priorities and human frailty all come into play.

And so problems persist in modernizing old systems, unifying disparate ones and building new ones. These concerns don't yield to our best efforts the way purely technical ones do. The result is that headlines taken from the pages of GCN from the 1980s and 1990s often could drop into current issues with little or no rewriting.

But that's not to say we shouldn't be optimistic; we should. To me, this headline factoid shows that people are willing to keep trying. Federal program, technology and management folks are dogged in their pursuit of solving the problems.

In the 20 years since GCN was first published, there is much to show for that perseverance. Many agencies are better at managing their assets and delivering services than they were two decades ago.

We at GCN plan to be around to keep reporting on the trials'and the triumphs.


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