Echoes of the past

"As the new administration prepares to take over, it seems appropriate to pause and notice the wild pace of technological change," Federal Computer Week editors wrote in January 1989. "New chips appear almost weekly, clock speeds on personal computers have risen to above 30 MHz, and laptops suddenly have 386 chips and — hold on to your chair — 100M hard disks."

In recent months, as we researched and edited the stories that went into this week's 15-year Federal 100 retrospective, we were frequently amazed and amused to see how much has changed since we began. We also realized that some things have not changed. Here are some observations and recommendations from the early years of FCW's editorial pages.

Different battle, same concerns. In February 1990, in the heat of the "war on drugs," FCW opined about the dangers technology posed to civil liberties. "Multiple-agency systems that collect personal information on U.S. citizens can become dangerously efficient."

Market prognostication. In May 1990, when Federal Sources Inc. predicted that federal agencies would spend $20.4 billion on technology in 1991, it seemed cause for a bullish view of the federal market.

"We think the message here is that industry shouldn't sell this marketplace short. Those who remain in this field stand to be its leaders in the 1990s. Those who abandon it will lose out."

Before the revolution. The idea of reducing the procurement authority of the General Services Administration elicited a reaction in 1993 that sounds odd now, eight years after the Brooks Act was relegated to the dustbin.

"In the interest of reinventing GSA, the White House should take care not to roll back the gains of the Brooks Act, which viewed centralized authority as a way to protect taxpayers from runaway procurements."

A timeless query. In early 1994, Clinton administration officials were mulling the idea of reorganizing the Office of Management and Budget, by folding the management experts into the budget operation. FCW, in turn, raised questions that are still being asked today.

"There is considerable debate on Capitol Hill about whether it is the processes of government that need changing or the people. Many believe that what the government needs are more executives who understand how to manage and like the challenges that strong management faces."

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