FAA weighs leasing option for computer equipment

Looking for more flexibility in how it procures computer equipment the Federal Aviation Administration is considering leasing computer equipment including its desktops and servers instead of buying what it needs outright.

The FAA is looking at the benefits of leasing on a broad scale with interest in equipment ranging from printers to networking wares as well as maintenance and support services. The agency is collecting pricing information on a variety of office sizes ranging from 25 people to 50 000 employees and contractors.

There are a number of potential advantages to leasing said Karen Davis a systems analyst at the FAA. First leasing would allow the agency to test systems in the prototype stage and deploy them without being tied to one platform thereby minimizing the risk of the program. Leasing also would allow the FAA to field systems faster when funds are not available up front to purchase products and it would give the agency easy access to emerging technology.

"Leasing gives us the opportunity to go with a wider implementation in the first year than we would be able to afford with a buyout " Davis said. "When you want to deploy on a wide scale generally you can lease more boxes than you can buy. Leasing also offers us the opportunity to develop corporate applications to a standard platform."

In general the FAA is asking industry to provide economic alternatives to purchasing computers and it is still in the early stages of gathering the leasing information Davis said. She added that the FAA is considering buying off the three General Services Administration operational-leasing contracts awarded last month those pacts allow agencies to rent ADP equipment without having to buy it eventually.

Industry sources welcomed the idea of leasing. "The strongest business case for leasing is that there is no government interest in ownership of computer technology " said David Poisson president of the Computer Dealers & Lessors Association an industry group. "Leasing places within the grasp of the government significantly greater computing power than they would have access" to otherwise. Technology "is made more affordable in a more timely way." Leasing also makes computer expenditures more predictable over time he added.

But Chip Mather senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. said some issues still need to be settled before leasing takes off in the federal government.

"The devil is in the details " Mather said. "It's a total-cost-of-ownership issue that agencies will have to address. They will have to make a strong business case for leasing. I'm not aware of any studies that show leasing offers a better value to the government except in certain circumstances." For example it probably makes sense for the Census Bureau to lease laptop computers because they will only be used for a short time during the decennial census. "There are areas where leasing makes sense but I don't think it will be as widely applied as is being hyped " Mather said.

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