Buzz of the Week

Distraction reaction

Lurita Doan has an amazing ability to make headlines, and now — well, there she goes again.

They say the cardinal rule in Washington is not to do anything that ends up on the front page of the newspaper. Extending that rule, feds also do not want to be asked to testify before a congressional committee or get into a fight with auditors. The administrator of the General Services Administration has managed to do all three.

By all accounts, it has been a rough few weeks for the GSA administrator. Last week, Doan was “invited” to appear before Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The big event will take place March 20 at 10 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building. You may want to get your seats now.

The invitation, however, came loaded with new questions about previous allegations…and a whole set of new ones.
  • Deal or no deal: There were fresh questions about the now infamous $20,000 no-bid contract that the administrator allegedly sought to award to a friend. While Doan called it a mistake, Waxman said there is evidence that she continued to pursue the deal.
  • Keep your friends close: There were new questions about whether Doan had used a January 2007 teleconference to ask senior agency officials to help “our candidates” by inviting them to public events such as the opening of federal facilities.
  • Contracting: Doan allegedly intervened to assure the renewal of a contract to Sun Microsystems despite staff concerns that the company had overcharged the government. It is always useful to remember that we have heard only one side of the story. Doan told Waxman that she is looking forward to the opportunity to testify.
But all of this noise doesn’t help GSA to do its job better. The agency is in something of a fiscal bind, and in the end, even if Doan is proven to be right on all these issues, they serve as a distraction from GSA’s real job — to help agencies buy goods and services more effectively.

Former GSA administrator David Barrum stressed that the agency should wow its customers. Unfortunately, right now agencies are watching for whatever comes next.

The Buzz contenders

#2: Thumbin’ it
The Department of Veterans Affairs will start mandating that its employees use thumb drives that meet Federal Information Processing Standard security standards. “Others will not be allowed,” said Robert Howard, the VA’s chief information officer, who spoke at the Government Information Technology Executive Council’s Information Processing Interagency Conference 2007 in Orlando, Fla. The VA is still smarting from the loss of a laptop PC containing about 26.5 million veterans’ records last year.

#3: Vet woes
The brouhaha about veterans’ treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center continued to mushroom. The attention comes from a Washington Post series about deplorable conditions at Walter Reed’s outpatient facilities. Last week, lawmakers held a series of hearings about the conditions at veteran hospitals, including Walter Reed, and there were questions about whether outsourcing led to some of the problems.

#4: Teacher’s pet
Executives at technology companies are not known for being political animals, so when Bill Gates went to Capitol Hill last week, he attracted a bit of attention. Gates said he wanted to address an issue that he believes is important: U.S. competitiveness.

“The U.S. cannot maintain its economic leadership unless our workforce consists of people who have the knowledge and skills needed to drive innovation,” Gates told the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

#5: The world is flat
“The World is Flat” by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman looks at globalization. The Defense Department’s CIO, John Grimes, said he worries the world may be too flat. DOD is concerned about increasing foreign ownership of companies doing government work.

As a result, more IT work is done overseas, which raises security concerns, Grimes told an audience of mostly industry members at IPIC 2007.

The timing of Grimes’ comments coincided with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ release of a new report, “Foreign Influence on Software: Risks and Recourse.”

“Globalization presents countries with both opportunities and risks,” CSIS analysts wrote. “The good news is that the federal government is focused on these issues; this report lays out a path for continuing to move ahead.”

#6: Neworx-ing
Here is a bonus item because all eyes are on the General Services Administration’s anticipated award of the first of two Networx telecommunications contracts. GSA officials promised the award would come in March, and insiders say it could come at any time. The big question is, “Will there be any losers?” There has been much speculation that GSA will give contracts to all the winners, at least in part to avoid a protest. Stay tuned.

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