The magic of acquisition

Rep. Gerald Connolly

IT leadership in the government iis in need of urgent reform, says Rep. Gerry Connolly, one of several prominent speakers at MAGIC. (FCW file photo)

If the top 26 federal agencies have 250 CIOs between them, is that a problem?

Rep. Gerry Connolly, (D-Va.), one of the sponsors of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), said the number reflects a growing diffusion of accountability and decision-making.

Speaking at a gathering of the federal acquisition community, Connolly said it also shows an urgent need for reform. FITARA, he said, will not only clean up federal IT management redundancies, but will also help harness technology to take charge of what he sees as a dangerously declining number of federal contracting managers in the federal workforce.

Connolly, ranking member of the House subcommittee on government management, organization and procurement, made his remarks at the Multiple-Award Government and Industry Conference July 11 in Alexandria, Va. The conference brought together members of the federal acquisition community to discuss the changing nature of the government's acquisition landscape.

The federal government's ability to acquire and manage technology is at risk as experienced contracting managers leave and demand increases for technology and technological expertise, according to Connolly.

"I think we're sliding back," he said, describing the government's ability to handle the influx of complex technology and to stave off redundancy and growing costs. The government wants to reduce the number of data centers, he said, but the opposite has happened. "In 1998 the government had 432 data centers. It now has 6,000. What happened?"

FITARA, he said, would be instrumental in making needed changes to the way government acquires and ultimately manages IT.

The bill, which Connolly co-sponsored with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), passed the House as part of the current Defense authorization bill on June 14. It now awaits action in the Senate.

Federal agency acquisition leaders said innovation is an antidote to the current toxic environment, where government is squeezed by shrinking budgets and growing technological demands, and where workers are demoralized and furloughed. Mary Davie, assistant commissioner for the General Services Administration's Office of Integrated Technology Services, and Frank Baitman, deputy assistant secretary of information technology and CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services, said innovation and change come more often from fostering ideas generated by employees rather than sudden "Eureka" moments.

"Think in smaller chunks. Focus procurement on outcomes," Baitman advised.

Once agency leaders determine the ultimate goal of an acquisition, based on the needs of the end users, the technological path to get to that goal, he said, can be left to vendors. That doesn't mean allowing vendors to dictate the solution. It means the needs of the end users of the project have to be the guiding light, not the technology itself.

"The federal vendor community has to understand how to deal with the government," he said later in the discussion. "Don't think about the $5 million dollar contract. Think about how you can help government." Davie said the GSA's recent roll-out of a reverse-auction acquisition program was the result of some regional GSA employees' efforts to cultivate a small idea into a big one. The Federal Acquisition Service's National Information Technology Commodity Program unveiled the site ( on July 9 that it said will deliver increased savings for agencies on the most commonly purchased office products, equipment and services. The GSA employees that came up with the idea, said Davie, had been using similar online auction capabilities regionally and the platform for it had already been created. It was only a matter of expanding it a bit.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer covering acquisition, procurement and homeland security. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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