Federal IT Contracting: An Interesting Read

By Daniel Eisen

In my last post I promised that I would highlight some articles I have collected on federal Information Technology (IT) contracting. The pile was taller than I thought.

My process of culling through articles kept reminding me of my how dad always used to say “how’s that going for you?” and “lots of luck”. But, I promised, so here goes.

My collection of articles on federal IT outsourcing started out as a stack of articles on private sector outsourcing. Here are a few worth mentioning.

  • The Journal of Business Strategy (2004) – The 10 outsourcing traps to avoid
  • The Academy of Management Executive (2003) – The seven deadly sins of outsourcing
  • California Management Review (2003) – The winner’s curse in IT outsourcing: strategies for avoiding relational trauma (my favorite title)

These articles provide fascinating conversations on private sector outsourcing from its history, benefits, risks, through methods and approaches for successful implementation. It is not hard to imagine why the federal government would soon follow the same path. However, working through all of the articles focused on federal IT outsourcing two old adages kept coming to mind – “as much as things change, they remain the same” and “everything old, is new again.”

Here are some of my favorites:

From the early days, in 1996 there was a piece in the National Contract Management Journal, ‘Privatization: A Coming Wave for Federal Information Technology Requirements’. This article touts federal IT outsourcing benefits such as personnel cost savings, improved quality of information systems services, focusing in-house resources on core functions and increased access to new technologies. It also provides cautionary warnings ranging from unclear costs and benefits, the loss of control of information systems and corporate security concerns and existing union/labor agreements.

From a 1999 volume of the Journal of American Society for Information Science, I came across the article ‘Better Funding for Government IT: Views from the Front Line.’ In the piece, the author describes the federal IT budgeting process as “myopic”. Yet, there was a strong sense of optimism as the author suggest that the federal IT budgeting process could be improved through approaches and methods such as strategic planning and performance management, developing better IT portfolios, cross-boundary investments (i.e., integrating services across agencies), and sharing risks with the private sector by “linking payment to improvements in government outputs rather than the delivery of technology services.”

Jumping ahead a few more years, federal IT outsourcing is in full swing, supporting and strengthening e-government initiatives. A 2005 article in Public Performance and Management Review, ‘Outsourcing for E-government: Managing for Success’ declared that the government faced a shortage of IT skills and financial resources and through IT outsourcing could “gain access to skilled staff…with the added benefits of economies of scale.”

The author describes many familiar issues and challenges ranging from the political-regulatory environment to issues of IT compatibility and complexity. And, the transition to e-government was not just happening in the US.

A 2005 article in Information Technology and People, ‘From Government to E-government: A Transition Model’ discussed how governments could successfully make the leap from traditional government services to e-government services to “help citizens get in, find their information or transact their business, and then get out as efficiently as possible”.

It was comforting to see that the US was not alone facing many of the same issues and challenges as other developed countries as it shifted to an e-government model.

Finally, we come full circle with a very interesting 2010 working paper, ‘Federal Contracting and Acquisition: Progress, challenges, and the road ahead.’ It is worth a read (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1542830).

But, with limited space and since the “the road ahead” will be discussed in my final post, I will end things here.

I want to wrap-up by admitting that, at first, it was the titles of many of these articles that initially hooked me. Yet in the end, I was treated to many rich, vibrant, eye-opening, sometimes contentious discussions. (Google “federal IT contracting” and you will see what I mean). In my next post, it’s time to ‘geek-out’ and check out some emerging technologies for supporting and strengthening federal agency operations and ultimately the services our federal workforce provides to our nations citizens. But if you would like to read any of the above articles, send me a request in the comments section. I’ll shoot it right over.

Eisen out…

Photo Credit: http://www.itoutsourcingservices.com, http://teleburst.files.wordpress.com,  http://www.itp.net http://www.howtocontract.net, savethepostoffice.com

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