Editorial: Get it right

Getting it right could be easier said than done.

It's easy to argue that federal agencies should not use information technology contracts to buy products or services not related to IT. For example, in the most notorious case, Defense Department officials erred from a procurement perspective by hiring interrogators in Iraq through IT contractor CACI International Inc.

Officials at DOD and the General Services Administration are rightly concerned about ensuring that agencies do not abuse procurement flexibilities. Their Get It Right program is an effort to convince agencies to police themselves before Congress gets into the act.

But deciding what is right and wrong is more difficult in other cases in which the line between IT and non-IT is less clear.

In a recent case, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) raised a red flag when it was revealed that an IT contract held by Apogen Technologies Inc. was used to hire nurses. However, this case is not as simple as it would seem.

Energy Department officials hired Apogen to maintain a database of compensation claims filed by DOE employees. The nurses were hired, according to company officials, to check the data going into the database. The nurses are not technology experts, but it might be argued their work is essential to the quality of that database.

Perhaps Get It Right will force agencies and contractors to think more carefully about procurement strategies. Perhaps DOE officials could have hired nurses through another contract to avoid the appearance of misuse.

But the DOE example is just one of what could be a long string of equally murky cases that will come to light now that government officials are on the lookout for procurement problems.

Do not be surprised, for example, if confusion arises in the area of building security. Traditional security guards and physical barriers increasingly are being supplemented by motion sensors and biometric technology. How do you compartmentalize those procurements?

In so many other areas, technology is not only a support function but also an integral aspect of daily operations. In such environments, nontechnology experts are working side-by-side with IT staff. Unless the procurement watchdogs keep that in mind, there could be no end to problems they find or simply create. n

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