Letters to the editor

Key to Security

I have just completed reading "Why security is so hard," by John Zyskowski [FCW special report, June 18]. I think he makes a point in his final paragraph when he states, "The resources that are in short supply are commitment and leadership." I have been doing Defense Department security for 18 years and am in complete agreement.

It is the same old story: Managers are paid and promoted on their ability to produce products. There is never any requirement to produce secure products. When security funds are provided to management, they are misused. Security funds are spent on other projects.

The key to security in the federal government is accountability. Agency heads, chief information officers and project managers must be held accountable for not providing adequate security. Information assurance in the federal government will only be obtained when individuals are held accountable.

Ronald Styron
Certified information systems security professional
Premier Technology Group Inc.

Unshackle Managers

I've just read Milt Zall's June 25 column, "Outsourcing conundrum," and I would agree that there is very little likelihood that a contract can be less expensive than in-house accomplishment. But there is another question: Which method is more efficient and effective in delivering services to the customer?

Let me explain with an example. Before I recently retired, I worked at the Army's Directorate of Public Works in Darmstadt, Germany, where we brought on a total maintenance contract. The bottom line is that the contractor, unfettered by the Federal Acquisition Regulation and other rules and regulations, was able to respond to and accomplish customer requirements much faster and more completely than the in-house workforce was ever able to do. (This was a quantifiable measurement.)

The first thing the contractor did was replace the vehicle fleet. Then he made sure all workers had at least pagers if not two-way radios. And finally, he was able to shop for supplies on the local economy in order to get what he needed when he needed it (and, incidentally, drastically reduced the warehouse operation).

A question here could be, Why couldn't we as government managers do the same? Are we too dumb? Absolutely not! But we have to live within the rules that tie our hands, often forcing us to do things the bureaucratic way rather than the smart way.

Another question that you addressed was, How much more expensive is the contract? This is a toughie. In our analysis of costs, we noted that the contractor assumed responsibility for many functions performed by other directorates within our organization: personnel, contracting, legal, vehicle maintenance, etc. In most cases these costs came from other accounts, and savings could not be verified. For example, the contracting directorate did not reduce personnel as a result of our total maintenance contract, but its personnel were able to spend available hours working on other people's contracts. There was definitely a savings there, it just could not be quantified.

So what's the bottom line? I believe that in many cases contracting is the better way, even though from a pure cost standpoint it might not seem so. Before my Darmstadt experience, I never would have said this, but my two years working with the contractor (and we had an excellent relationship) made me a believer. (Of course, another solution would be to unshackle managers!)

Nick Shestople
Temecula, Calif.

Regulation Relics

I read Paul Brubaker's column about military reform ["Lead, follow or get out," FCW, June 25], and I couldn't agree with him more about needed government reforms. But I couldn't disagree with him more about how to do it.

I have met very few government employees I would consider "deadwood" or "pessimists." The problem is Congress, not the executive branch. Does Brubaker propose that Defense Department employees violate statutes just because it may make sense to do so?

Take the acquisition process for example. Unless you order from an existing contract, like a General Services Administration schedule, you must publish all contracting opportunities over $25,000 on the Internet and fend off all inquiries. Does Mr. Brubaker think that procurement specialists like doing this? No, we do it because it's a law.

This is only one of numerous such relics. But until Congress changes such laws, we in the executive branch will continue to have less purchasing authority than a buyer for a county government. Personally, I would consider someone "deadwood" if they can't correctly identify problems.

Name withheld upon request


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