Air Force forms IT-buying council

The new Air Force Information Technology Commodity Council will help change how the service buys and maintains hardware and software, Air Force officials said.

In upcoming months, the service's group will study pricing, purchasing, and supplier and technology trends so the Air Force can manage IT from acquisition to operation — even to giveaway or destruction, officials said.

Vendors "are radically reducing purchasing costs over and over again, year after year," said Lt. Col. Thomas Gaylord, Air Force IT Commodity Council deputy director, who spoke Aug. 26 at the Air Force IT Conference in Montgomery, Ala. The service wants to do that, too, he said.

Industry uses commodity councils to determine if it appropriately manages goods and services. Members of the new Air Force group want to understand what IT the Air Force owns and needs, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group.

"The Air Force IT Commodity Council gets at [the question of,] 'Do you have sound management of your assets?' " he said.

The Defense Department and the services must clearly communicate where and how they spend IT dollars, said Air Force chief information officer John Gilligan.

This is especially true with the Air Force's proposed fiscal 2004 budget of $6 billion, which is a 10 percent increase from fiscal 2003, Gilligan said. The IT Commodity Council will determine where the service spends IT money and what drives those purchases, he said.

The Air Force launched the council July 21, after five months of planning, Gaylord said. Gilligan and Charles Williams, the service's head of contracting, lead the new group.

The service requires standards for system architecture and IT purchasing, Gaylord said, and the council fulfills the Air Force's needs.

"The Air Force IT Commodity Council is about how we acquire and manage IT across the entire product life cycle — not just acquisition," he said.

Government and industry should not acquire IT just so they can buy IT, Allen said. They should purchase IT that easily fits into their existing infrastructure — or with that in mind, he said.

"I look at the establishment of the Air Force IT Commodity Council as a step to understand what IT the service uses and needs," Allen said.

Congress wants DOD to better explain how it buys and manages information technology, said John Stenbit, assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration and CIO.

DOD will break its IT budget into two categories — warfighting and business — beginning in 2005, Stenbit said. Congress considers IT to be one group covering everything from spy plane radars and communications satellites to payroll and accounting management systems.

The Air Force partitioned war-fighting and IT funding for fiscal 2004 because of Congress' perception that DOD was not spending its IT dollars efficiently, Gilligan said. The service created a budget exhibit to easily show where it will spend them, he said.

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Tracking buys

The new Air Force Information Technology Commodity Council will be based at the Air Force's Standard Systems Group at Maxwell Air Force Base-Gunter Annex, Ala. The new, 24-person group consists of 10 major command representatives. Seven are from the standard systems group, six are from the air staff and one is a functional representative.

The group will study five topics to help the service transform its hardware and software acquisitions.

Those topic areas are:

Desktop/notebook PCs: How are they contracted, bought and maintained, and how should the Air Force streamline their future purchases?

Pricing: How does the service acquire good products from reliable companies at fair prices?

Acquisition: How does the Air Force start a consistent, servicewide purchasing strategy?

Suppliers: Who are they? Whom does the service use? Whom should it use?

Technology: What are the trends?

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Who is the Air Force IT Commodity Council?

The new, 24-person group consists of 10 major command representatives. Seven are from the standard systems group, six are from the air staff and one is a functional representative.

Air Force major command leaders chose the 10 people to support the service's functional and user requirements; standard systems group personnel were selected for their functional, planning and technical expertise; and the air staff and functional representatives were picked for their communication and leadership abilities.

The group meets periodically via face-to-face meetings, telephone conference calls and video-conferencing. The Air Force portal also includes a council Web site so representatives can discuss issues, post documents and plan meetings.

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