Army CIO pushes outsourcing

After years spent convincing his superiors to adopt an organizationwide approach of using outside vendors to run certain technology services, the chief information officer for the Army Corps of Engineers has his chance to prove it.

Wil Berrios, CIO for the Army Corps of Engineers, said his four years of preaching the virtues of technology outsourcing paid off earlier this week when the deputy commanding general of the corps told him to look into it.

"He said it makes sense, especially with the fiscal challenges we're facing," Berrios told Federal Computer Week, following his July 24 presentation at Federal Sources Inc.'s executive breakfast in McLean, Va.

Berrios believes using outside providers can save time, money and manpower. Contractors already handle about 60 percent of the $500 million in tech services used by the corps, and the total rises to 80 percent by including the group's network backbone. But those deals have all been arranged on a case-by-case basis. Berrios wants the corps to embrace tech outsourcing, which means looking at tech projects and services in broader terms across the organization.

The corps has already started thinking that way: After submitting 11 business cases to the Office of Management and Budget last year, the corps trimmed that number to seven this year, Berrios said. In those seven cases, the corps captured about 92 percent of its IT projects, he said.

Berrios listed several challenges facing him, including:

* Cultural, especially in the Defense Department, in which ownership traditionally equates to power;

* Personnel concerned about losing their jobs, though outsourcing often just means a new boss;

* Lack of a standardized architecture;

* Need for effective enterprise management tools;

* High initial costs in making the change;

* Convincing top executives.

The goal is doable if the government views technology services as utilities instead of core competencies, Berrios said. Officials need to make full use of technology, take care of existing workers and recognize that local services will always be needed.

OMB recently released the latest version of its Circular A-76, which establishes rules for conducting a public/private competition. The memo will be the primary means of meeting the Bush administration's competitive sourcing goals. More work is needed to do that, said Berrios, who endorses the changes in the circular.

Federal Computer Week is the media sponsor of the FSI breakfast.

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