Letters to the editor

Following are responses to an FCW.com poll question that asked: "Do you favor dividing the Senior Executive Service into a corps of managers and a corps of technical experts?"

Techies vs. Managers

There's nothing more dangerous than asking a manager a technical question, and there's nothing more destructive than trying to make a technical expert into a manager.

When most of the managers I have encountered are asked a technical question, they seem to think they know all the answers and will make decisions with less than half the information necessary.

Technical experts may be able to answer the technical questions, but they are not normally politically astute enough to know how to respond to any manager other than their own.

Martin Bridges Sr. Internal Revenue Service

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There is no real career path for technical experts who do not want a management job. Executives tend to choose a path to the Senior Executive Service and turn away from technical issues. You end up with a cadre of technically weak managers/executives, and that's not acceptable in the Information Age!

There's a failure by executives to listen to the technical experts, whom they consider too far below their grade.

Richard Wright Volpe National Transportation Systems Center Transportation Department

Purchasing Vehicles and Certified Products

I was perusing the Jan. 27 special report about the Electronic Commodity Store III and pondering questions related to some of your online polls, other articles, other purchasing vehicles, the e-government initiatives and the President's Management Agenda.

Interoperability and security are "mentioned" in many cases, but among the myriad government and agency vehicles for purchasing, it seems "certified products" and interoperability issues are generally not addressed. Shouldn't "certified products" be part of the charter — the goals and objectives that support e-government and our national security strategy — for these government purchasing vehicles? Not everyone is an acquisition/life cycle and/or security/information assurance and/or information management/information technology expert. We come from diverse backgrounds and situations, but there are thousands of products and vendors, with sales and marketing hype attached. We can't afford to "do our own thing," run research and development or hobby-shops, or fail to standardize toward interoperability.

Is a single purchasing vehicle for all federal agencies conceivable, with search engines and filters assisting in the tasks? This might reduce problems that businesses may have registering with multiple vehicles and it may also enable customers to do cost/benefit and risk analyses, know that products are interoperable and certified, and be assured that contracted services are being provided by appropriately cleared personnel.

On the other hand, is a single purchasing vehicle possible because of the exponentially increasing pace of technological improvements and the "need" for such tools in support of organizational business processes?

Public-key infrastructure, digital authentication and access controls, ensuring data integrity, knowledge management, and business intelligence assets for collaborative efforts and decision-making will become more significant over time and are tied into agencies' business processes.

In addition, mobile, wireless and pervasive computing — as tools toward horizontal reach, accessibility and convenience — will make exponential strides.

We need to consider the relevant information assurance and interoperability issues and build in "planning upfront" toward supporting the business process, not considering these matters as add-ons.

Without a common direction — which includes definitions, relevance, understanding and standards — current concerns and issues within our government agencies will continue to have people and processes as integral parts of the problem.

The inability to effectively and efficiently shift to a new paradigm is more about institutionalized culture than technology. In developing initiatives, management decisions must define the vision, goals, objectives, strategies, and cost/benefit and risk-management issues to create a common understanding. This is what shapes cultural improvements and brings about change.

Bottom line? Planning upfront must be done to include information systems modeled toward business process improvements. Purchasing vehicles and acquisition authorities must evolve, streamline processes (done by and for people) and be able to address e-government interoperability issues in real time to include ways to verify and validate certified and accredited tools and products.

The potential is significant, and there are challenges ahead that we have yet to fathom.

Eric Winters Defense Department

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