Freeze frame: A look at ICEMAN

It takes a lot to turn the government IT community on its ear. It takes more than hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns on the Health Care Financing Administration's Medicare Transaction System and it takes more than a new Tax Systems Modernization plan. Sometimes it takes the ICEMAN.

The Federal Aviation Administration's recent decision to award a $250 million data processing services contract to the Agriculture Department's National Information Technology Center has taken the town by storm. In one fell swoop the FAA award has brought the level of discussion over public/private competition to an all-time high.

Unhappy vendors point to the USDA's poor track record in managing its own IT. Others point out that the USDA only recently unveiled plans for its own IT architecture. Looking further down the road others wonder aloud who will assume the risks inherent in the contract. All these things are true but the larger question really has nothing to do with the USDA's ability to get the job done.

No one doubts that the USDA's Kansas City Kan. center has the skills necessary to perform the tasks required after all it's been doing similar work for other agencies. The real questions are should the USDA be in the business of competing with industry for government contracts and is data processing a core function of the agency?

We acknowledge the FAA's courage in awarding ICEMAN to another government entity but we also appreciate its sense in suspending the pact pending further investigation. Government carefully needs to weigh the potential risks and benefits of doing business with itself.

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