IT Acquisition a Big Challenge for Govt Agencies

Ann All
Slide Show

10 Do's and Don'ts of Communication in the Federal IT Acquisition Process

Improve the federal acquisition process by following these guidelines.

Last week I wrote about how the federal government's convoluted and arcane procurement processes and its bureaucratic culture are making it tough for its agencies to cut IT costs and improve performance. I cited the Defense Department as an example, based on a Federal News Radio story that noted the DoD has15,000 separate networks, 67,000 servers and 772 data centers. It requested a whopping $38.4 billion dollars for IT budget in fiscal 2012, more than 40 percent of it intended for enterprise infrastructure.


The infrastructure sprawl really isn't surprising, given that more than 60 percent of the DoD's IT budget is distributed to and spent by individual military services. Also the agency apparently lacks a formal IT enterprise strategy, given the story's reference to plans to publish one "soon."


I'm pulling for the DoD. I noted some signs of improvement. But let's get real, it's obvious the agency has a long way to go.


A realllly long way, given another Federal News Radio story that describes how the DoD is finally moving away from applying the same purchasing criteria it uses for weapons systems to its enterprise IT. Go ahead and read it again; I'll wait. I like this quote from Beth McGrath, DoD's chief management officer, which I assume was uttered without a shred of irony:

We should not be applying the DoD 5000 process to commercial off-the-shelf technology. There is no requirement for a live fire test, and there is no requirement to ensure the technology is mature. It doesn't really fit when you are buying an enterprise resource planning system and trying to implement it.

The article doesn't say how long this policy has been in place or why it was introduced in the first place, but could it ever have been a good idea? Knowing how government works, I assume the policy had been questioned before, probably many times. Let's just hope the decision to change it is a sign of real commitment to overhaul government IT.


The DoD intends to bring its testing and evaluation and certification and accreditation processes under the control of a single organization, instead of the current practice of having these functions performed by two separate groups. It plans to improve these processes by testing new technology in the environment in which it will run. It also plans to consider whether the agency would benefit from a single appropriation for IT.


According to the article, these moves will "help DoD address long-standing challenges around defining requirements and the tendency to try only large projects, instead of taking a modular or agile approach."


The story mentions a recent survey of federal CIOs by TechAmerica and Grant Thornton that indicates other agencies probably experience IT difficulties similar to those faced by the DoD. Not surprisingly, acquisition is viewed as an especially tough challenge. Survey respondents believe not enough contracting professionals possess the right kind of experience needed to purchase technology. Respondents would also like to see more government-wide acquisition contracts, especially around networks and infrastructure.


The survey's authors suggest "better, more open communication with IT industry during the acquisition process would help."


Also not surprisingly, survey respondents named program and project management as the work force skills they needed most.


Said Norm Lorentz, a former Office of Management and Budget CTO and now director of Grant Thornton's Global Public Sector IT Services:

If we are truly going to utilize IT to transform performance of government, we will have to manage it a lot better than we do today. That is what we heard consistently from the CIOs who participated in the survey.

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