ICEMAN goes to the White House

Members of Congress sent a letter to the White House late last month expressing concerns about a recent $250 million Federal Aviation Administration award to the Agriculture Department for data processing services.

The FAA awarded the Integrated Computing Environment-Mainframe and Networking (ICEMAN) outsourcing contract to the USDA in early May. It has since been suspended by the FAA until the agency has a chance to evaluate whether it violated any Office of Management and Budget rules that govern public/private competition. The USDA beat out other agencies and large integrators for the contract.

The letter sent by Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) and Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) to President Clinton questioned whether the administration's plans for "reinventing government should include federal agencies unfairly competing with the private sector to provide commercial goods and services to other government agencies."

It encouraged the president "to re-evaluate the decision to award this contract to the Department of Agriculture based on the criteria laid out in S. 314 and H.R. 716." These bills sponsored by the congressmen maintain that the government should outsource noncore government functions to private industry. The legislation stops "entrepreneurial government" by creating a "best-value comparison" to determine which bidder offers the best value to the taxpayer the congressmen said in the letter.

The lawmakers said the current process of evaluating "whether or not the federal government should perform commercial functions is woefully inadequate. Most alarming it is our understanding that the A-76 process was possibly circumvented entirely so that no rigorous competitive analysis was performed at all."

Also at issue according to the letter is the past-performance record of the USDA in the information technology arena. The department has been criticized by the General Accounting Office for "inadequate management of information technology investments that resulted in millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted."

Aides for Thomas and Duncan said that as of May 30 the White House had not yet responded to the letter. The USDA and the FAA declined to comment on the letter.

Meanwhile public/private competition remains a major cause of concern to industry. The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) on May 30 said the ICEMAN contract if left in place will have a "chilling effect on business in the federal information systems marketplace." ICEMAN sets a "very unfortunate precedent one that could force many companies to seek business opportunities outside the government sector."

Among other things the ITAA asked the FAA to cancel the current award reopen the best and final offer process and allow only private-sector firms to participate or decide to recompete the contract.


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