Funding Procedures Government IT's Biggest Problem, Kundra Says

Ann All

Last year I wrote a post in which I shared Vivek Wadhwa's opinion that California's state government should contract with startups rather than traditional government vendors to get help in rebuilding its outdated systems architecture. Wadhwa wrote:

Instead of the big state contractors who typically bid on and win such contracts, the State should reach out to the Valley's entrepreneurs to rebuild this. ... I'll bet that the Valley's entrepreneurs could build this system from scratch in less than a year for less than $5 million. That's right: for less than a tenth of the cost. You can build sophisticated systems in the Web world for a tiny fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time required for maintaining those old monsters. ...

Apparently, Wadhwa isn't the only one who wishes government agencies would at least consider vendors other than the usual suspects, the IBMs, HPs and Deloittes. According to an article penned by Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau, outgoing federal CIO Vivek Kundra said in last week's discussion with the nation's top science advisers that an overly complex procurement process has created "almost ... an IT cartel within federal government."


A small number of companies win government contracts, "because they understand the procurement process better than anyone else," Kundra said. "It's not because they provide better technology."


I've written several times about the government's complicated and arcane procurement processes, which contribute to the kind of enterprise sprawl found at the Defense Department. As I wrote in May, DoD has 15,000 separate networks, 67,000 servers and 772 data centers. It requested $38.4 billion for IT budget in fiscal 2012, more than 40 percent of it intended for enterprise infrastructure. Unbelievably, the DoD is just moving away from applying the same purchasing criteria it uses for weapons systems to its enterprise IT. More than 60 percent of its IT budget is distributed to and spent by individual military services.


Kundra asked the advisers how the government could get more diverse companies to compete for federal contracts. He advocated a single Congressional committee to oversee IT expenditures, which might result in agencies sharing services or at least using more standardized IT platforms. There are currently more than 12,000 major government IT systems, a number that reinforces Kundra's call for consolidation. While the government maintains some 2,000 data centers, Kundra said he believes that number could be consolidated down to three.


According to an InformationWeek article, Kundra called funding procedures government IT's biggest problem. Kundra also told the advisers it was time to move from IT policy making to execution.


The outgoing CIO's frustration feels palpable in these remarks. I think Kundra's frustration with government bureaucracy is probably what prompted him to leave his post now. Though progress has been made on his ambitious plans to reform government IT, several of his favorite initiatives were either scrapped or dramatically scaled back as part of sweeping budget cuts.

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