More or less?

The next few years may introduce yet another variable into the PC market — a shrinking government, as a large number of federal employees become

eligible for retirement and the pool of workers remains small. But, paradoxically,

a smaller work force may increase business for vendors as agencies push

for automation.

"Because we have considerably less people than we did years ago, but

more of a demand for IT, the market for computers and software is staying

fairly level," said Col. Neal Fox, director of the Air Force's Commercial

Information Technology-Product Area Directorate. "We need to do the same

job with less people, and we need to automate and innovate to do that."

The Air Force has established an e-commerce site that links customers with

vendors in the hardware and software markets to compensate for shortfalls

in personnel, Fox said.

Rebecca West, program manager for the Information Technology Omnibus

Procurement II contract at the Transportation Department, said she is concerned

about the possibility of a large percentage of federal employees leaving

and taking their IT knowledge with them. "But that just reinforces the fact

that we need to come up with technological solutions to help solve those

problems."

Ron Ross, president of Compaq Federal LLC, called the potential loss

of employees "the biggest challenge the government faces in the next three

years.... It's not a matter of whether the government is going to replace

them," Ross said. "They are replacing them as fast as they can, but not

fast enough to replace 45 percent over three years."

He said the numbers are leveling off, and looking ahead at the next

six months, desktop sales are pretty flat, but it runs in spurts. "I think

the general trend over time is flat, but the real question is the availability

of people and increased productivity versus increased personnel. You've

got to be able to do more with less."

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