Defining government

Get ready for Government Inc. It's coming a lot sooner than you think. That's

the gist of a memo sent out last month by Dan Porter, the Navy's chief information

officer.

The memo allows Navy organizations to hire contractors to conduct certain

portions of "defensive information operations." That means civilian programmers

working for companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and GTE Corp. can help

protect the Defense Department's information systems from cyberattacks launched

by nation states and terrorists.

The job of defending the nation's information infrastructure, the policy

states, is now "non-inherently governmental." That's quite an information

warfare policy leap. When did defensive maneuvers become non-inherently

governmental?

Certainly, outsourcing information security work is a reality. Civilians

staff the information operations group for the command that covers the central

and southern Americas and the Caribbean. Porter makes a distinction that

offensive attacks launched by the United States against an enemy nation's

information systems remain inherently governmental and, therefore, will

be carried out by uniformed personnel. That's a fine line to draw, and even

harder to stick to.

But Porter, like other military and civilian CIOs, is facing an impossible

task: competing with fat compensation packages offered by the private sector

for information technology talent, combined with the mass retirement of

federal technologists expected in the next five years. If agencies want

to continue to meet their obligations, outsourcing what has been thought

to be inherently governmental IT jobs is a must.

That's why agencies need to begin to work through all the policy implications

of hiring contractors to do inherently governmental work. The Federal Activities

Inventory Reform Act, which requires agencies to develop a list of functions

they perform that are not considered inherently governmental, is a start.

But more needs to be done, such as thinking through what the consequences

are of hiring private firms to do this work. How we define and manage government

will certainly change. As the Navy may soon find out, coming up with answers

may be more difficult than you think.

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