Another Move Back to Central IT for the Feds?

Federal Computer Week recently ran an opinion article by Michael Garland, a former BearingPoint procurement veep and currently under contract to help the government with Acquisition Reform; you can read this article here: “Why acquisition reforms fall short“.

In this article, Mr Garland states the following, “…there is no centralized, integrated strategy supported by a corresponding organizational structure. The government has been intensely fragmented when it comes to IT acquisition.”  He then purports how the Government should act as a centralized enterprise when it comes to acquisition and management of IT. He begins with a statement that the Government acts as a “holder” of a portfolio (much like a financial portfolio) and then later states the following:

“That approach lacks cohesion and inhibits the ability to develop and exploit best practices. It has been an ad hoc structure devoid of an enterprise strategy. The fragmentation also hinders the ability to develop valued expertise or deploy any of the various continuous improvement methodologies that have been so useful for the private sector.”

Having worked for many an agency as a Fed, Navy officer, or contractor, I can say that centralization causes many woes, the largest one being that no central IT strategy (acquisition or otherwise) can be attuned to an Agency’s unique needs.  Integrating custom systems of systems command and control software for a Naval ship is entirely different than acquiring a human resources application, to deploying a mortgage loan lending package, to building a custom-built analytical program for determining pesticide safety.  It appears his mental model is all about cost efficiencies and not value production.

What can be promulgated to help each agency is guidance (not rules) for helping procurement officials make the appropriate decisions on contract types so that risk can be minimized and managed effectively locally, while also producing maximum benefit/value for the Agency’s mission for supporting the American people. Central rules destroy customer experiences in almost every industry. (Actually only the most risk averse/safety-centric industries gain from central rules.)  Central rules sets are designed for cost efficiency at the expense of effectiveness in delivery; I contend this is not a strategy to pursue.

I also contend that a portfolio of holdings is EXACTLY what we want; and what we want to extend is thinking that helps our brokers (the Agencies) invest better on our behalf in ways that respect their missions.

Think alignment over control…

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Follow-up: a colleague passed me a pointer to an 18F article on Ghost Writing RFPs. This is a step in the right direction if this is used to enable improvement throughout agencies in how they write RFPs.  Unfortunately, at the point of writing an RFP, an acquisition strategy may already have been made and depending on the flexibility and remaining options (in terms of time) to modify these later, the various Departments and Agencies may have a tough time taking advantage of this service.

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