NASA: Outsourcing's a go


NASA, the agency that has outsourced more desktops than any other federal group, remains committed to that concept — despite the General Services Administration's recent move to kill its own seat management deal.

"We've got an agency that is more resigned to it," said Mark Hagerty, program manager for the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN). Senior managers at NASA headquarters and the agency's 9 centers have signed off on the concept, and "now the fundamental objective at the centers is, "Let's make this work,'" he said.

"NASA management is firmly behind ODIN," said Ed Brimberg, the ODIN contract technical officer for NASA's headquarters. "All the centers seem pretty well committed." NASA management also gets quarterly reports from the centers on their progress.

Seat management, or desktop outsourcing, is an attempt by agencies to treat desktop PCs as a service rather than a commodity. Proponents have argued that outsourcing the operation and maintenance of desktops to companies that specialize in such tasks would enable agencies to focus on their core missions.

While NASA managers remain committed to this approach, officials at GSA confirmed late last month that they would not extend their own 1998 task order to PRC Inc. under the agency's governmentwide Seat Management contract.

GSA's move shocked many people who follow GSA's Seat Management and NASA's ODIN contracts. One NASA official said he was "dumbfounded" by GSA's decision.

GSA publicly announced in 1998 that it was going to "eat its own dog food" and hoped to become a model for how desktop outsourcing might work. But since then, critics say GSA has largely become a model of what not to do.

The Department of Health and Human Services' Health Care Financing Administration has "ODINized" nearly all of its PCs — about 5,400, said Ed Gray, HCFA's ODIN program manager.

HCFA had specific goals when it signed its ODIN task order in June 1999, Gray said. Those clear goals enabled HCFA to control expectations, he said.

At that time, a key priority was replacing old PCs for the Year 2000 date change. "They wanted a fast-track schedule," said Bruce Emerson, vice president of Science Applications International Corp.'s business solutions division, which is HCFA's contractor under ODIN. SAIC replaced 3,500 desktops in just 31 days.

Beyond the Year 2000 fixes, HCFA also wanted to get a better handle on managing its assets, develop a life-cycle technology refresh program and improve its software distribution services, Gray said.

Brimberg gave a more mixed review of the ODIN rollout at NASA's Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Because ODIN is a performance-based contract, vendors must meet monthly goals established by each NASA center to receive an award fee that would eventually total 3 percent of the contract value.

But at NASA headquarters, the contractor — SAIC — has yet to earn the performance fee, Brimberg said. Furthermore, all NASA-owned equipment was supposed to be transferred to SAIC by this point, but that won't happen until the end of the year. Despite the problems, there are significant benefits from ODIN, Brimberg said. The government is largely out of the business of buying — and keeping track of — computers, he said. That saves labor and time.

Hagerty said that despite GSA's decision, the agency can still help further the cause of seat management by being a model of what not to do. "To their credit, what they need to do right now to bolster the continued success of their program is to come clean and say, "Here is what went wrong,'" he said.

Seated for Business

Seat management task orders have been awarded under these contracts. Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN):

* Ames Research Center

* Dryden Flight Research Center

* Glenn Research Center

* Goddard Space Flight Center/Wallops Flight Facility

* Health Care Financing Administration

* Johnson Space Center

* Kennedy Space Center

* Langley Research Center

* Marshall Space Flight Center

* NASA headquarters

* Stennis Space Center

General Services Administration Seat Management:

* Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General's Office

* GSA (task order to be dissolved later this year)

* Nuclear Regulatory Commission

* Peace Corps

* State Department's Office of Foreign Buildings Operations

* Treasury Department

* Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

Sources: NASA, GSA

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine,, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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