Obama pushes for commodity IT purchasing
Aim is to reform IT management though better purchasing.
In his fiscal 2012 budget proposal, President Barack Obama is beginning to push the government harder toward purchasing IT as a commodity in order to save billions of dollars in duplicative spending.
The budget proposal addresses issues that align with the Office of Management and Budget’s 25-point plan to reform IT management which seeks to use the sheer size of the government as a buyer to get better prices for general IT items that all federal agencies need.
These commodity applications include, for example, email across functional organizations. In that vein, the General Services Administration will create governmentwide contracts for cloud-based email solutions with a set of baseline functional and technical requirements by the end of 2011.
In the budget proposal, the Obama administration said it’s implementing OMB’s plan, which will focus on turning around poorly performing IT projects and getting agencies to shorten the time it takes to buy IT. The two-year budget cycle and the months afterward that it takes for Congress to pass an appropriations bill is a lifetime in the IT world, according to Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal.
The president also wants to shift “the mindset from building custom systems to adopting lighter technologies and shared solutions,” the budget states.
However, one expert said OMB’s idea of buying IT purchasing as a commodity hasn’t worked in the past.
Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, said countless numbers of federal executives and administrations have tried to buy IT as a commodity but small differences have caused big problems.
“Commoditization is a favorite topic of OMB budget wonks. The reality, though, is that very little is really a true commodity,” Allen said.
Each agency and most agencies’ subdepartments, vary at least slightly in their IT needs. One commodity would not fit all in the government IT world.
“It would be foolish to think that commoditization of IT will achieve much more than decreasing the overall functionality of government,” he said.
The better approach he said is for an agency to understand early on in the buying process what it needs its IT to accomplish, and, once figured out, buy the IT in the most competitive and efficient means possible.
Matthew Weigelt is a former FCW senior writer who covered acquisition and procurement.