ALS Is a Strategy
Thank you for publishing an article on CALS [WT, June 1994]. Since CALS is a subject of vital importance within my area of responsibility as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition and Technology), I must admit the overall tone of your article was disappointing, in that it focused primarily on a recent Inspector General's report and uncomplimentary comments by other sources. In my view, a great deal has been accomplished despite some growing pains over the almost 10 years of pioneering CALS effort.
A critical element in the article which perpetuates a misconception and requires correction is the statement that CALS is "...a 10-year-old Pentagon computer-buying program." CALS is, and has always been a government and industry strategy to achieve a digital working environment both within DoD and industry.
At the Pentagon, I am responsible for establishing policy for CALS and for the success of the CALS thrust. It is also part of my role to continue informing the "CALS community" about our efforts.
Again, thank you for your interest in CALS and your continuing coverage of this and other DoD information technology issues.
R. Noel Longuemare
Department of Defense
Editor's Note: Washington Technology received the deputy under secretary's letter July 14. Because of a clerical error, we were not able to publish it until now. Mr. Longuemare's perspective on CALS, which he included in the letter, will appear in a future issue of Washington Technology.
Commerce's Answer to the GAO
Your editorial, "When the GAO Gets In Over Its Head" [WT, Oct. 27] was right on the mark in recommending more technical depth in reviewing technology-intensive programs. Evaluating complex systems programs is extraordinarily difficult. And as you correctly point out, it is not a job for generalists.
Recognizing as you do that even the technologists themselves aren't always sure how to make the creations work, we have approached systems evaluation and oversight in our office from a multi-disciplinary perspective - combining highly experienced computer scientists and engineers with experts in major systems acquisition management, government contracting, and program evaluation.
Our office of systems evaluation reviews a wide array of Department of Commerce systems, including large, complex, one-of-a-kind systems requiring extensive custom software development. We are proactive in our reviews, conducting them as early in the process as possible in order to to obtain timely improvements, avoid costly mistakes, and provide meaningful oversight.
Our office brings a set of capabilities to evaluations that I believe are unique in government - particularly strong technical and analytical skills, extensive hands-on experience in large systems development and acquisition in industry and government, and a comprehensive understanding of the interrelationships among the technical, management and contractual issues of systems acquisition.
We are thus able to identify the truly high-leverage issues and offer practical and effective solutions to problems. On some programs we have correctly predicted problems and identified solutions years before the issues were even recognized by program and agency managers. Our work has helped to bring about improvements in systems acquisition management in the various Commerce agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Patent and Trademark Office, and the Census Bureau.
Improvements are needed not only in evaluation, however. Twenty years in industry followed by twenty in the federal government have convinced me of this: If we are to obtain substantially better results in acquiring systems, we must significantly improve the education, training, position requirements, and discipline for all elements of the acquisition workforce. This is particularly relevant as we reinvent government and empower the federal worker at the front line.
Your editorial makes an important contribution to the dialog on how the federal government can improve the evaluation and oversight side of systems acquisition.
Frank DeGeorge, Inspector General
U.S. Department of Commerce