After the executive order: Will IT devices prove their worth?

When is a tablet computer not a waste of federal money? What about a smart phone? Or even a laptop?

President Barack Obama’s Nov. 9 executive order on reducing waste in government spending effectively directs federal IT managers to begin with the negative assumption.

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The order acknowledges that such devices can play a role in supporting telework and continuity-of-operations strategies and improving the efficiency of operations. But the express intent of one section of the order — let’s not mince words here — is to “limit the number of IT devices ... issued to employees.”

Experts will tell you that there’s an upside here: If IT managers are forced to justify spending money on these products, they might become smarter consumers, which could ultimately lead to even broader deployment as they discover new ways to use the technology to make their operations more efficient.

That might be the case. But it’s also likely that the Obama administration is betting that, in the end, smart consumers will decide that the products are not as useful as they originally thought.

It might be convenient for many feds to have laptops, smart phones or tablet PCs so they can stay productive even when they are on the road. But for how many feds is such connectivity essential? The current budget crisis is creating a larger and larger delta between notions of what's convenient and what's essential. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The danger is that the bottom-line focus of the executive order — and the way in which it associates IT devices with waste — will discourage federal IT managers from exploring the ways in which the technology could make agency employees more productive and improve the efficiency of their operations.

It might make sense to limit the number of IT devices, but let’s not limit the imagination.

About the Author

John Stein Monroe, a former editor-in-chief of FCW, is the custom editorial director for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group.

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Reader comments

Mon, Dec 5, 2011 Skipp

John you opened with "For most of us Feds, tablets are not necessary." But the general tone of your message is that Tablets are Techie toys that are not necessary. I disagree. I am pushing for a pilot of tablets that will let my employees take tablets into an industrial environmet to increase productivity. They will be climbing ladders and will not has a desktop to work on. Therefore a tablet is ideal and they will have access to their desktop without having to trudge back to their desk repeatedly. Just another perspective.

Mon, Dec 5, 2011 John

For most of us Feds, tablets are not necessary. Techie types want them so they can be on the leading edge and they want the Government to provide them so they can officially use the tablets for work. Does this mean that the tablet is better than a laptop PC? Nope. It's just more convenient packaging but not really necessary.

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