Tech Roundup

Rebooting IT, replacing a contracting dinosaur and averting scandal.

Rebooting IT Acquisition  

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wants to overhaul the way the government buys information technology with legislation introduced in March.

Issa first floated the proposed IT reboot in September 2012 and has been gathering input from industry and government workers since then.

The Federal IT Reform Act would give chief information officers full budget authority, including the ability to shift agency funds from one project to another based on particular needs. It also would make agency CIOs presidential appointees. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., ranking Democrat on the oversight panel’s main technology subcommittee.

The government’s $80 billion in annual IT purchases has been plagued by cost overruns and missed deadlines. Issa and others have touted technology’s ability to lower the overall cost of government by making operations more efficient and reducing the need for travel.

“Ultimately IT is the toll we pay to better spend $3.5 trillion,” Issa said. “It’s not about the $80 billion we spend on IT.”

His bill also will call for the title CIO to be reserved for just one person at each agency. There are now 243 CIOs across government; the excessive use of the title diminishes its authority, he said.

“This is a single point of accountability with the title of chief—someone who can say ‘I’ve got $6 billion, and I’ll be darned if I’ll waste it,’” he said.

- Joseph Marks

Replacing a Dinosaur

The Navy and the Defense Contract Management Agency have started the process of replacing the vintage 1996 Defense Department Standard Procurement System, which managed 800,000 contracts worth $190 billion in 2011.

In a request for information to potential vendors posted on FedBizOpps, the Navy said it wants to acquire an electronic procurement system to replace the contract writing capabilities of the Standard Procurement System. DCMA posted a notice seeking similar software.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, mandated the sunset of the Standard Procurement System by September 2015 and directed the services to develop their own. The 17-year-old departmentwide system “is difficult to maintain and improve and is technologically fragile,” Kendall said in a 2011 memorandum. 

Emerging technologies no longer require a “one size fits all” contracting system, he said.

- Bob Brewin

Averting the Next Scandal

The General Services Administration is considering building a menu of contractors offering services that can help agencies avoid the sort of conference spending scandals that rocked GSA itself in 2012.

Contractors listed on the menu would help centralize agencies’ conference and meeting spending in unified databases, ensure competitive pricing for purchases, minimize the risk of cancellation fees and archive key information to pass along to watchdogs, the request for information said.

If GSA moves forward with the project, meetings management would become a special item number on GSA’s Schedule 599 for Travel Services Solutions.

- Joseph Marks

How Rubber Cement Brought Down a $4.6 Million Drone

The Air Force used a rather weird approach to technology insertion with a Predator drone that crashed in Afghanistan on May 8,
2009, according to the service’s aerospace mishaps database.

Some unknown soul “tacked into place” a software chip that controlled an aileron on the wings of the armed Predator, using the same kind of silicone vulcanizing rubber cement used for minor car repairs, according to the Air Force crash report. This makeshift approach was aimed at facilitating easy removal of the chip for programming updates, the report said.

Alas, vibration in flight knocked the chip loose, which in turn knocked out operation of the aileron and led to the crash and destruction of the $4.6 million drone.

- Bob Brewin

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