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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Is NetCents just a symptom of bigger woes?

I missed an important question with my latest blog on NetCents and that’s the question of time.

I think we take it for granted that procurements, particularly these big task order contracts, will take a long time. It's just the way things are.

NetCents 2 already has been delayed multiple times and if the pattern of awards and protests continue, more delays should be expected.

The Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network contract is another example. This replacement for the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet has been in development for over five years. The Navy is adamant that NGEN will be a five-year contract, compared to NMCI’s 12 years and counting.

So a question was asked at the press briefing for the final request for proposals: How soon after award will the Navy start working on NGEN’s replacement. The answer: Immediately.

I guess procurements are now like being a member of Congress where you are in a constant state of running for reelection.

The desire to get things right is laudable, but five years to put out a five year contract? And we’re talking IT here, not a space shuttle or a robot that can drive a car. This is stuff that the commercial world buys, installs and manages everyday.

Imagine, an IT manager at Walmart or ExxonMobil, telling the CEO, we are going to put in a modern network and it’ll be ready in five years. That dog won’t hunt.

I know the government has special requirements to foster competition and guard against taxpayer dollars being misappropriated. But the cost of protracted procurements also needs to be part of the calculation. There is a lot of waste there for the government and for contractors.

Part of it, I think, is the culture of government. There is a fear of moving too fast and of taking a risk on a new approach.

There also a bit too much "specialness" about government. The beliefe is that because it is the government, the needs and requirements are special. It is the same kind of thinking that drives individual agencies to stand up their own procurements when they are buying the same goods and services that a half dozen other agencies are.

This thinking also drives contracting that is based on compliance with rules and regulations instead of on outcomes and results.

I also need to point a finger at industry to, which plays a role in fostering this culture of specialness. Too many contractors make their living by supplying butts in seats and racking up billable hours. That’s the way they’ve done business for decades and old habits are hard to break.

But with cloud computing and other new technologies, this is starting to change. But it is a slow and painful process.

One of the few bright spots of the current budget crunch is that it offers the best opportunity in a generation for agencies to break out of their comfort zones and adopt new ways of doing business.

So don’t think NetCents 2 is an isolated case. It is merely the latest example of a procurement system and culture in desperate need of reform and repair.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 12, 2012 at 9:52 AM

Reader Comments

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 Rhum Runner NoVA

Part of the problem -- if not THE problem -- with protests in general is the government has done nothing to stop any bidder from protesting for whatever reason the protestor feels appropriate. There should be some form of penalty levied on companies who protest in which the government determines the protest to be baseless or without merit.

Fri, Jul 13, 2012

You missed the "Big Story" here. The IBM Center for the Business of Government recently released a very interesting study on Govt protests really worth reading. Seems GAO only rules in favor of the protestor 25% of the time… BUT the Govt withdraws the award and redoes the competition another 20% of the time because they recognize they are going to lose. Then there is another 25% of the time where the winner buys off or shares the work with a protestor to resolve the issue so they can begin the revenue stream. What his means is a losing bidder now has a 70% chance of gaining something from a protest. This doesn’t even account for what a losing incumbent gains by delaying awards (indefinitely) and continuing to earn the revenue while they have it tied up in Federal Court! Is this a great country, or what?

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 Gargantua National Capital

So, in your penultimate sentence you say, Nick, "the system and culture [are] in desperate need of reform and repair." True, but it has always been true. NetCents and greater and lesser disasters are not news. They are the expected product of the overly labor-, time-, and dollar-intensive way of doing things. Everyone criticizes it--but everyone likes it. It produces hundreds of thousands of jobs that would not exist if the system were efficient and effective. It produces profits, even for run-of-the-mill contractors, and it produces full careers for countless feds. Unfortunately, it has not bred a large and robust business media that thinks and acts independently. (I'm not criticizing any particular organization--but there are almost none that practice real journalism.) So, we get the kind of government--and procurement--that we deserve. Don't believe, not for a second, that any of the legions of stakeholders really wants to change much, if anything, about it.

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