Air Force considers contracting shuffle
- By Dan Verton
- Apr 03, 2000
The Air Force soon may be the first Defense Department organization to closely
ally its business managers with its front-line deal-makers under a plan
that would integrate the operations of the service's two leading information
Discussions began last month about how to integrate the daily operations
of the Standard Systems Group, the Air Force's premier buyer of IT products
and services, and ACCWAY, an organization within the Air Combat Command
that has focused on re-engineering the entire IT life-cycle process.
The goal, according to officials, is to devise a system that leverages
the buying power of SSG with the management expertise of ACCWAY.
SSG charges a fee for the use of its contracts and uses the fees to
fund other activities within the organization. Its goal, therefore, is to
negotiate the best deals on behalf of its customers in the Air Force. SSG
offers more than 65,000 products.
SSG is one of DOD's Working Capital Fund organizations. Working Capital
Funds, or revolving funds, are special accounts into which money is deposited
for expenditure without regard to fiscal-year limitations. Congress must
authorize agencies to establish this type of fund.
But studying the potential impact of IT products on the business processes
of organizations has never been a part of SSG's charter. Instead, SSG's
mission has been to negotiate great deals at significant discounts by leveraging
the buying power of a large organization.
However, not every product that is made available to an Air Force IT
manager will necessarily work or benefit a particular enterprise, according
to an Air Force source, who wished not to be named. "We realize the need
to provide customers maximum choice of IT products, which the CIT-PAD is
continuing to do very well," the source said. "However, a crucial area that
must be addressed is the need to provide customers the assurance that what
they buy will work on the enterprise when they receive it." ACCWAY provides
that assurance, the source said.
Glenn Taylor, director of SSG's Commercial Information Technology Product
Area Directorate (CIT-PAD), said SSG tries to work closely with ACCWAY,
but more needs to be done. That process started last month when Air Force
CIO Lt. Gen. William Donahue held a meeting with SSG and ACC officials,
"They've tried to re-engineer their business practices to reduce the
total cost of ownership of IT from requirements through disposal," Taylor
said. But ACCWAY does not offer the range of products that SSG does and
goes through SSG to buy most of its technology.
Some observers question the philosophy of Working Capital Fund initiatives
that give little thought to what products are needed by a department struggling
to define effective business processes.
A Pentagon source who wished not to be named said the secretary of the
Air Force staff is reviewing an SSG policy proposal that would make going
through SSG directly for IT products and services mandatory for 95 percent
of requirements. "That's not the right thing for the Air Force or for the
government," he said.
Although he does not see a need for an organization to acquire things
just for the sake of acquisition, Bob Guerra, president of Robert J. Guerra
and Associates, said SSG has helped drive people to use standards-based
products, and programs such as the Enterprise Software Inititative have
helped reduce costs at DOD.
Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., a
federal procurement consulting company, said greater integration of SSG
and ACCWAY is a good idea. "It's not the PC, it's the integration of the
PC" that makes the difference, Mather said. "You need more centralization
and more skill," he said, referring to what acquisition professionals are
calling "centers of excellence" for contracting. "IT has to be bought on
a business case."
The business case is what ACCWAY offers the Air Force IT community,
according to the Air Force source. "Process re-engineering needs to take
place where the process is," he said. "You can't do it from 1,000 miles