Who's Hot and who's not

Follow the money. That advice, given to two Washington Post reporters hot on the trail of the 1970s' Watergate scandal, is still good today for anyone trying to understand the federal information technology market.

Federal Computer Week's annual Federal List takes that advice to heart. Beginning with data gathered by Eagle Eye Publishers Inc., the General Services Administration and others, this report parses the dollars and cents of government procurement to reveal trends in how federal agencies buy and use technology.

Consider our list of the top 20 systems integrators. During the past two years, many agencies have made it clear they look for business partners with some heft. It's not so much the size that matters, but the range of capabilities. So we are seeing large integrators swallowing up smaller vendors that specialize in important niches — or, especially in the area of homeland security, that have employees with high-level security clearances.

The volume of business passing through GSA's Federal Supply Service is hardly news. The real variable now is not volume but complexity. To what extent can agencies use GSA contracts to acquire the products and services they need to support major programs? All the pieces are there, including the option of blanket purchase agreements for arranging volume discounts. But can agencies make it work? That's the question we tackle in this year's report.

Our look at small businesses uncovers a pleasantly surprising story. Four years ago, the Commerce Department set out to create a venue through which small firms could offer their services. The initiative, known as the Commerce IT Solutions program, ran into protests that delayed the start of business for nearly a year. That rough start, though, has been all but forgotten in recent years, as business has soared. Expected to span five years, the contract is already approaching its $1.5 billion ceiling, forcing Commerce to start work on the follow-on contract. Is this program an exception to a bleak trend for small businesses or a reason for hope?

Of course, numbers cannot tell the whole story. Our annual list of the 10 hot companies to watch is not drawn from any database but from the collective wisdom — and hunches — of various players in the federal IT community.

Granted, it's hardly an exact science. But the primary intent of this list, like the Federal List as a whole, is not to pass judgment on any particular contractors. Instead, it's simply an interesting, and maybe entertaining, way to get a fresh perspective on the federal IT market. Enjoy.

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