Now you know it's serious
Federal agencies generally fall into two camps when it comes to out-sourcing
information technology services. In the one are agencies that simply aren't
interested. In the other are agencies that are interested but want to see
someone else try it first.
But those demographics may change if the National Security Agency carries
through next month with its intention to ask companies to submit bids for
a multibillion-dollar IT outsourcing contract named Project Groundbreaker.
Most federal IT managers would not have chosen NSA as a likely candidate
for outsourcing operational information systems. Intelligence agencies tend
to have an insular approach to IT, and NSA is not known for its openness.
Indeed, the agency is not outsourcing any of the systems that manage classified
Nevertheless, Project Groundbreaker demonstrates just how grim the IT
infrastructure is at the agency and the lengths that it — and other agencies
— must go to if they are to keep up with the breakneck pace of technology
developments in the private sector.
Under the contract, an outside vendor would take over the ownership
and management of NSA's internal systems, including telephony, desktop computers,
networks and IT security. NSA's director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden,
believes the agency must outsource its systems, which were assembled during
the Cold War, to keep up with the technology that its new intelligence targets
Hayden is right. Not only does NSA have a hopelessly outdated system, but
the agency faces a tight IT labor pool in which the government has a distinct
disadvantage when competing with the private sector. Those two factors put
the agency in a difficult situation in which to buy and manage its IT resources.
Hayden doesn't have much choice.
Neither do many other agencies. Feds may not like the option of outsourcing
IT, but given the fact that most agencies' responsibilities are vital to
national security — and the economy — relying on agency systems that are
inferior to what most Fortune 500 companies have is untenable. Outsourcing,
until another viable option presents itself, offers the best course and
one that most agencies must at least consider.