Letters to the Editor

FTS 2001 Vendors to Blame

The opinion piece by Warren H. Suss concentrates on federal agencies' fear or reluctance to transition to the new contract and completely overlooks the total lack of preparation the FTS 2001 vendors have demonstrated ["A war over FTS 2001," FCW, March 27].

My experience is in dealing with Sprint. When the contract was awarded, they didn't know how to take an order or how to track an order. We began faxing orders to them before the online system became available. Even with the online ordering system, orders placed with Sprint must be manually re-keyed into three or four different systems — often causing errors. Sprint operations are not a very good example of a contract that is supposed to lead the government into new ways of doing business.

Local exchange carriers can reject an order as a bad address for as little as having "Ave." instead of "Avenue." Sprint is completely at the mercy of the LECs as far as circuit delivery is concerned. Sprint has yet to deliver an invoice system that satisfies the request for proposals allowing direct billing and information roll-up.

Yes, the contract offers significant savings, but the lack of transition enthusiasm cannot be dumped solely on the doorstep of federal agencies. The vendors are at least partially to blame.

The lack of preparedness demonstrated by the FTS 2001 vendors should be sufficient grounds for the General Services Administration to say that the first year's minimum revenue guarantee is void. The entire minimum guarantee concept was very poorly thought out. It would have been much better to give them a significantly smaller guarantee ($100 million) and say, "There is lots of money to be made on this contract, and your performance will dictate how much of it goes to your company."

I am not trying to bash either Sprint or MCI WorldCom, but putting all the "transition reluctance" on the federal agencies is not fair to the hardworking government staff trying to make transition happen.

Name withheld by request

Department of Veterans Affairs

A Tangled Web

I think that, with exceptions like the Library of Congress, federal Web sites aren't what you'd expect to see from the government that invented the Internet ["Customer disservice," FCW, April 24]. In my experience, one reason is that good agency developers can't install anything to the Web without getting approval from a central agency authority in charge of Web servers, partly because they're in control of giving out new URLs.

In most automatic data processing areas, a single inner-driven government employee who sees a problem can take the initiative to make it better, but — at least in my organization, the Department of Veterans Affairs — the Web is different. That stuff gets done s-l-o-w-l-y, it often gets done without industry-standard eye candy and it only gets done by those experienced in "hacking" through the internal bureacracy in question.

Part of it is that government Web sites are more likely than most to be challenged by real hackers, so anything newish generates lots of security discussion. But just because folks spend a lot of time justifying their security approach to upper management doesn't mean they're doing a superior job of it.

We need more columns like these. This kind of feedback will make those lousy agency processes and systems better, unless the managers involved are foolish enough to turn defensive.

Name withheld by request

Faster, Cheaper — Not Better

Steve Kelman's article praising NASA's "risk-taking" administrator missed the point ["Don't pounce on failures," FCW, April 24]. The question is why it took three successive mission failures before an "independent panel" was brought in to review the situation.

One wonders if top NASA managers were so busy basking in the glow of the "faster, better, cheaper" limelight that they forgot to listen to their people. Lower-echelon folks are the first to know when frugality has pushed the project to the ragged edge and beyond. That begs the culture question: Would anyone who raised early concerns still be considered a team player by the administrator?

If Kelman's math is correct, the "new age" NASA leadership has been unable to improve on the mission success rate achieved by the old NASA "bureaucrats," despite having far better technology and ample data from the successful missions. That's food for thought.

Michael D. May

General Services Administration

Federal Way, Wash.

E-filing: The Other Story

I'm glad Jim Wyant had a good experience e-filing using TurboTax ["Letters," FCW, April 17]. However, I think Intuit has a way to go. Actually, I think the Internal Revenue Service should eliminate the middleman and permit taxpayers to e-file directly with them.

I tried e-filing with TurboTax. For the federal return, Intuit indicated the transmission was successful. However, after several weeks with no receipt [from the IRS], I filed to the IRS using paper. Intuit's failure to process my electronic return thus resulted in a delay of my refund.

I also tried filing my Maryland return electronically with Intuit. I got an error message, which seemed to indicate to me that Intuit had programmed the state tax for Maryland incorrectly for electronic filing. So I filed my Maryland return the old-fashioned way too, but didn't have the delay I had with the IRS since I knew immediately that Intuit wasn't processing it.

Intuit batted 0 for 2. Get rid of the middleman!

Bill Samuel

Environmental Protection Agency

Federal Computer Week welcomes your letters. Write to us at letters@fcw.com.

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