The most valuable resource: people

The Los Angeles Times in December published a three-part special report on the state of the federal government's computer systems. Although much of the series focused on old atrocities already aired in the "Computer Chaos" report and in numerous other publications it seems fitting at the beginning of a new year to pause and reflect on where the government stands in its use of information technology.

It is an oversimplification to say there are only two schools of thought on what the causes of the current situation are but analysts tend to assign responsibility to either the process or the people. Those who believe that the procurement process is at the core of the government's computer problems see 1997 as the first real test of the new purchasing environment. Over the last several years new legislation has swept away many of the old rules and replaced them with increased discretion and flexibility.

Those who believe that people have been the problem are not as encouraged. Top managers are still underpaid change jobs often and are rewarded for not taking risks. To make matters worse many senior IT executives are now leaving government service. We tend to believe that people are the heart of any long-term solution to IT issues. The political focus however has been on reducing the number of people in government - not on attracting or developing the next generation of management.

We hope Congress and the administration will find time to consider how to better develop the government's most valuable resource. We cannot see solutions to systems problems happening before the people problem is addressed.

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