Is there an IT-acquisition generation gap?

men talking

A generation gap between acquisition and IT professionals -- laid atop budget cuts, cybersecurity threats and shifting technologies -- is exacerbating what might be the most difficult period for federal IT managers in more than a decade.

The federal acquisition workforce is among the youngest in the government, while federal IT workers are among the oldest, the General Services Administration's Mark Day said.  Day is acting deputy assistant commissioner for the Office of Integrated Technology Services, a part of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service.

Day contends the gap is complicating an already-fraught federal IT environment. With technologies such as cloud computing creating new business models to which federal agencies have to adapt, communications between the two groups is more critical than ever.

“Acquisition and the CIO have to learn how to talk to one another to solve the cloud business model,” Day told a group of federal IT managers and hopeful federal vendors at an IT Legacy Modernization for Government Conference on Aug. 19.

Generational differences can impede that communication, Day suggested, though he cited no specific examples.

But he did note that the cloud model is at a critical stage, moving beyond the initial hype and into a place where reality has set in. “There is no silver bullet. We’re figuring out if it really works” in providing cost and operational benefits for the federal user, Day said. “I’ve seen cloud deals that save and some that don’t.”

Understanding how to get a cloud application that works begins in the acquisition process, he said. Competition is a key part of that understanding. Federal agencies should know how to negotiate deals and step back when terms aren’t on their side.

Paul Tibbits, the Department of Veterans Affairs deputy CIO, agreed with the need for an understanding of competition, but added that a lack of a longer view of IT at federal agencies could also be hampering the federal acquisition process. “There is no real end-to-end view at the federal government,” he said, which might be more cultural than generational. Tibbits said the private sector suffers from the same mindset. “Everything is done in snippets in incremental delivery. We need to get smart about the end-to-end view,” he said, and not just the next deliverable on projects.

Tibbits added that his agency has worked to make acquisition less difficult for VA IT managers. His agency has set up a one-stop Commodities Enterprise Contract where IT managers can get laptops, tablet computers, thin clients, servers, switches, routers firewalls and storage gear.

Three prime contractors, he said, have been selected to supply the gear. “We’ll be buying off this in the next few weeks.”

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Tue, Aug 20, 2013 Jerry Frese

There is a generation gap between Aquisition and IT but I contend it is the Aquisition side that is out of date. Try getting Contracting Officers to understand AGILE and you will immediately see the problem. The COs want detailed explainations of what the utltimate outcome will be and in AGILE that is hard to do.

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