Federal officials brief business leaders on IT opportunities

Federal officials briefed representatives from the private sector Thursday on the state of information technology projects and encouraged private companies to foster relationships with the public sector.

Dan McLaughlin, acting director of the Information Technology Acquisition Center (ITAC) at the Homeland Security Department, met with industry insiders for the first time to talk about public-sector opportunities within ITAC. The program's mission is to streamline information technology across the agency in "an efficient and effective manner," he said at INPUT's FedFocus conference on government technology.

McLaughlin has yet to develop any concrete plans for ITAC because he wants to "start the process with industry." He has conducted a "tremendous amount of market research" but is currently in a "transition period" until the center receives more input from experts.

In the next few weeks, McLaughlin expects to advertise open positions for ITAC staff before moving ahead with plans to develop a governance structure, craft acquisition plans for services and command efforts, and distribute proposal documents for industry. He also has been working with other Homeland Security officials, like Chief Information Officer Steve Cooper, to coordinate technology needs.

Also at the conference, Mike Palensky, chief of the Census Bureau's acquisition division, highlighted his agency's planning process for the 2010 census.

For the 2000 census, he said, officials mailed "130 million households worth of mail, [so] we had 115 stacks of paper as tall as the Sears Tower that we had to image and process ... within 90 days. That's why we're here years in advance of 2010 ... trying to award our contract earlier."

"A big section of this contract [to help process census forms] is just building and operating the system," Palensky said. "For the first time in 2010, we're looking at different nodes, like telephone and Internet responses. There are a lot more security issues around everything we do at Census since" the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The agency released draft proposals for certain contracts in August and expects to release a second draft proposal Nov. 1, before the formal request for proposals is made available in February 2004, Palensky said. Contracts will be awarded in October 2005.

"With a major acquisition like this ... it normally takes us about six months" to complete, he said. That is why the bureau is asking industry to look at solutions that will "get us to 2010."

Palensky stressed that when awarding contracts, it is "not the company size but the people you're bringing forward to work on our program."

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