Maximum benefit

How many times have we heard that government should be run more like a business? Let’s put aside the fact that more businesses fail than succeed. The idea that the operations of government should be driven by the same motive as private enterprise — profit, or more specifically, that deliciously bureaucratic phrase “return on investment” — is fallacious on the face of it.

That’s not to say that government agencies should not run more efficiently. Businesses try to minimize expenses to maximize ROI, and in that respect, their models can be instructive to any enterprise: for profit, nonprofit and government alike. But as contributing writer John Moore illustrates in this week’s cover story, government officials can’t always measure their technology-buying decisions based on bottom-line business results — i.e., ROI. If they did, government might not run as well as it does.

Case in point: service-oriented architecture. SOA, it turns out, is far from DOA in mission-critical government enclaves, even though it has been widely discredited in the business world. As John points out, the Defense Department and a number of civilian agencies have some of the biggest interoperability headaches in information technology, and SOA provides a means for both integration and development/deployment efficiencies. What chief financial officer can argue with that?

Also in this issue, the subject of technology purchases led us to get down to the brass tacks of federal contracting. The Obama administration has provoked a lot of lofty, if heated, conversations about procurement policy and acquisition reform, stoked to the blue embers with a mandate to spend $787 billion in economic stimulus money. But at some point soon, the administration will have to focus on the basics of purchasing decisions.

We asked three acquisition specialists to give their best advice on

  1. The General Services Administration’s schedule contracts.
  2. Interagency contracting.
  3. Small-business set-aside contracts.

Those types of contracts account for much of the money agencies spend on IT. See what Bill Gormley, Robert Burton and Guy Timberlake have to say about them.

This week we also introduce a new section called Reader’s Corner, which features op-ed pieces commissioned from and/or volunteered by readers who submitted particularly apt responses to stories or other comments on Contributors this week are Robert Fenton and Matt McKnight.

If you are interested in contributing an opinion piece, please contact John Monroe, director of community/user-generated content, at

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.

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