P> Mismanagement's Long History
Joyce Endoso's cover story "Procurement Reform Ignores Mismanagement History" (WT, Dec. 7) is a rim shot -- almost on target. Maybe future contract report parts will make the series a bulls-eye shot.
Sure, government political and civil servant managers share in the blame for mismanagement of agency information technology projects. (Technical problems, by the way, are nothing more than a subset of mismanagement). However, so do government contractors whose primary motivation is cash flow to the detriment of requirements, satisfaction and productivity for the taxpayer. Sometimes (or is it most times), a Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK--contact Project Management Institute) enabled civil servant PM may find that the contractor, whose feet are being held to the fire of performance, will find a way (politically on the Hill and/or higher political management) to get rid of that PM or force the PM to back off so that mismanagement and cash flow can continue to occur.
This not-so-friendly government contractor workplace is a fact of government life to the detriment of the taxpayer and agency-specific customers, which can only be eradicated with a yet-unheard-of-reform led by a yet-to-be-elected president and Congress.
Our government is encrusted by a negative national political and social culture, which denigrates and distrusts leadership and management of taxpayer resources; elects politicians whose most important agenda is to destroy, not reform government; and elects presidents whose political appointees and inherited civil servants break the laws they administer. The culture that fosters negative incentives produces negative government. As a by-product, we have the not-so-friendly government contractor workplace.
What to do? Recognize the barriers to effective and productive government, and find incentives and rules of behavior to eliminate or reduce the barriers.
Garrett V. Coleman
- - -
I commend News Editor Joyce Endoso for her two-part series on federal procurement reform (WT, Dec. 7 and 21). The series effectively portrayed the disconnect between certain of the "acquisition reform" provisions of the FY 1996 defense authorization legislation and the shortcomings in the federal information technology procurement process that the reform provisions purportedly address.
Among these is the elimination of protest jurisdiction at the GSA Board, which has provided effective oversight of IT contract awards. Certainly the board's protest process requires legislative refinement after 10 years of operation, and a number of well-grounded remedial proposals have been put forward by responsible groups and individuals. But there has been precious little offered to justify complete elimination of board protest jurisdiction.
President Clinton's Dec. 28 veto, on other grounds, of the FY 1996 defense authorization legislation gives Congress the opportunity to think again about the merits of the board's protest process, and to craft the necessary refinements to that process. In my opinion, the current record supports no other course of action.
Carleton S. Jones
Sysorex Information Systems Inc.
Setting the Record Straight
Mr. Hogen's reply (WT, Dec. 21) to my earlier letter (WT, Dec. 7) so egregiously distorts what I wrote and attempts to revise history, that it requires a correction.
Mr. Hogen makes a number of statements about me and my company without knowing either. He assumes that I need to take advantage of training opportunities in my company and that I should help my employees. As a successful independent consultant, I take personal responsibility to keep up to date. And that is the advice given by professional organizations to all working engineers.
Individuals are responsible for themselves. It would be great if some organizations offered training and retraining for workers, but that is not the norm. Older workers are routinely laid off so that younger workers who have been recently trained in school, or via entry wage on-the-job training work, can be hired in their place. That's a factoid! And the data in the referenced article [about employee retention] (WT, Nov. 23) proves my point. With hundreds of resumes for every opening, the companies that are whining about a lack of qualified employees can certainly find some that can do the job with only minimal training -- or no training if they were willing to pay for the experience that senior workers have acquired already. Yet these companies complain as loudly about the alleged shortage of workers as Mr. Hogen does about my pointing out the falseness of their claims.
Mr. Hogen does not refute any of the widely published data that I referenced. Instead, he assumes that because his company is good that they are all good. This is categorically false. Dilbert didn't become such a fast growing, widely read comic strip because management is such a nice bunch of swell fellows. He assumes that because some senior level engineers are employed that there is no problem. As long as there is work to be done, there will always be some senior engineers that will be employed.... Millions of trained engineers have moved on to selling shoes or flipping burgers because they couldn't get work in their field.
Many senior technical staff should be making far less because of the plethora of unemployed and underemployed workers to choose from, but companies often overspecify their requirements and demand recent experience in multiple skill areas. So the corporations end up paying some workers extremely high salaries while simultaneously whining about the alleged lack of qualified workers. I have worked on several jobs where the client demanded many skills, which I had -- and then used none of them. They overpaid just as all those whining companies do except when they are hiring new graduates to work cheap, while overlooking some of the allegedly required skills that they demand from the older applicants.
The fact is that there are no hiring and retention problems. Never have been any, never will be any. The free market works. The only problem Mr. Hogen and the companies in the original article may have is finding enough engineers who are willing to work for below-market wages, and who want to be treated as a valuable resource, not like consumable raw material.
This is not whining. This is reporting what I have observed over the last 35 years. It rarely does older engineers any good to learn a new skill because most hiring managers demand two or more years experience and not just knowledge. And the vast majority of companies do not provide any meaningful training or experience in new technology for older workers. I have even seen ads requiring five and ten years experience in an area that hasn't been around more than a year. To paraphrase Dick Tracy, Human Resource departments are non compos mentis.
The fact is that there are still several hundred thousand scientists and engineers out of work. And [Sen. Daniel P.] Moynihan's immigration bill of 1990 is still importing another million foreign scientists and engineers to fix the alleged shortage.
Mr. Hogen's comments appear to be a reflex action. I have observed how American corporations operate for many years... and I have a reading list of thoroughly footnoted and documented books that confirm my observations.
William B. Adams
Symbiotic Systems Ltd.
Speculating on China's R&D
I am a faithful reader of your magazine. I like it for its rich information and beautiful format. But I [would] like to know based on what information source did you say that China is "musing an R&D cut" and "eliminating its OSTP equivalent" (WT, Dec. 7). As I know, China plans to increase the ratio of R&D budget to GDP from a current level of about 0.7 percent to 1.5 percent by 2000, and the State Science and Technology Commission of China, the OSTP equivalent, is operating normally as the overall planner and coordinator of the whole China. I formally request a prompt reply. Thank you very much for your attention.
Office of Science and Technology
Editor's note: As journalists we are obligated to protect our sources. Our item noted that China is "musing" an R&D cut, and not actually making one.
Scientology Acts to Protect Property
Your recent article on the copyright litigation (WT, Dec. 7) concerning the Church of Scientology's religious scriptures omitted key facts about its efforts to enforce U.S. copyright law on the Internet.
About 10 years ago, a group of thieves stole confidential, unpublished, copyrighted religious scriptures from the Church of Scientology. Scientologists believe these materials are to be studied only after a person has completed earlier levels of study and is properly spiritually prepared, a practice that has historical precedent in ancient Judaism, early Christianity, some forms of Hinduism and other religions.
One of the perpetrators who stole these materials was apprehended by authorities and was subsequently convicted and jailed, and the other two people involved face imprisonment if they ever return to the country where the theft took place. Although a court ordered the thieves to turn in all copies of the stolen documents, the criminals already had made and distributed some other copies.
As a result, about two years ago, a handful of individuals, who were well aware these documents had been stolen and who had obtained copies through various means, began posting them verbatim on the Internet. These people were subsequently sued by the Religious Technology Center, which owns copyrights of the Scientology religion.
It is incorrect, as the WT article contended, that RTC sues access providers as a matter of policy in such cases. RTC took legal action against certain access providers only because they refused to remove the offending material from their systems and therefore were actively contributing to the copyright infringement. In fact, in its litigation against Netcom, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose, Calif., upheld RTC's legal argument that access providers and bulletin board service operators can be liable if, after being informed that their users had committed infringement, they failed to act to prevent further violations.
Judge Whyte's ruling is particularly important to free speech. Many creative people and publishers are hesitant about the Internet for fear their works will be stolen and abused. Only if they know that their ownership of their creations is protected will these individuals and companies begin to fully use the Internet.
The WT article also quoted a recent decision rendered by Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the U.S. District Court in Northern Virginia. While this decision did not address liability of access providers, it does illustrate how the copyright enforcement issue has become clouded by misinformation from the copyright violators themselves.
In particular, the argument that RTC filed suit over supposed "criticism" of the Church of Scientology is an artifice manufactured by those seeking to avoid liability for violating RTC's copyrights. Unlike Judge Brinkema, however, Judge Whyte has not been deceived by this ploy. In September, he issued an injunction against an Internet user who had been engaged in wholesale postings of RTC's copyrighted materials. Judge Whyte understood that this particular copyright terrorist also had made hundreds, if not thousands, of postings critical of the Church, but that RTC took no action concerning them because they did not involve any copyright infringement.
In other words, critics of the Church of Scientology can rant and rave all they want on the Internet. They have the freedom of speech to do this, just as the church has the freedom of speech to express its philosophy and views. However, when they begin to copy, without authorization, large verbatim sections of confidential, copyrighted material, then it becomes a matter for the courts.
The true "free speech" at issue here is the free speech of creative people, which is being endangered by copyright terrorists who wish to play loose and free with existing copyright law.
If someone comes into your home, steals a valuable, unpublished manuscript and then starts to distribute unauthorized copies, you are not impeding his free speech when you take legal action to recover your intellectual property and stop its unauthorized publication.
The Religious Technology Center, in pursuing its litigation, is, in fact, forwarding the original intent of the Copyright Act and is blazing a trail through Internet law that all owners of intellectual properties will be able to follow.
Alexander R. Jones
The Founding Church of Scientology
Office of Public Affairs
Editor's note: More than 60 people, including two members of the Dutch parliament, have posted Advanced Training Documents obtained from open court records in a California libel case instigated by the church.
While the California court has found that access providers can be held liable for contributing to copyright violation, Judge Whyte said they are never directly responsible, and explicitly said Netcom would in all likelihood be found not guilty.
On Restructuring the 8(a) Program
Your argument (WT, Dec. 21) that legislators attempt to terminate programs they declare "an abysmal failure" is indisputable. However, your suggestion to restructure the 8(a) program into a program for small businesses rather than minorities is misguided. Conservatives have indeed declared affirmative action flawed and therefore must be terminated. Both conservatives and Washington Technology have missed the point. Discrimination has not gone away and considering human nature is never likely to go away. Flawed or not, the 8(a) and other affirmative action programs were intended to mitigate the problems of discrimination. Eliminating these programs or radically changing their purpose does not solve or help the problem. Better to tinker with the 8(a) program and perhaps change the focus from "minorities," racial or otherwise, to economically disadvantaged. Considering the fortunes of many minorities in this country, such a change should not greatly hurt those who should receive set-asides and should benefit those who would otherwise be denied because they are part of the racial majority.
- - -
I am comfortably certain WT will receive a plethora of responses critical to your Opinion section on restructuring the 8(a) program for service to "small" businesses rather than based upon minority ownership (WT, Dec. 21). Please register my vote in favor of your article's position particularly after reading Channel News in the same issue. "McBride and Associates Continues Growth Toward $100 Million" states that a company with $75 million a year in revenue, which has been in business for 10 years, will not graduate from the 8(a) program for two more years.
The 8(a) program was initially established as self-help for fledgling companies beginning to conduct business in an open market, where they have historically had problems with capital formation principally due to discriminatory practices. Principled reason has long since abandoned this policy given the continuous eligibility to remain in the 8(a) program if you are a large and longtime functioning company. A federally sponsored program that discriminates against majority-owned, genuinely "small" businesses and allows, as well as fosters, "fledgling companies" (who have been in business for 10 years and approaching $100 million in annual sales) to remain eligible for sole-source awards should have a strong following (but only by those companies it indulges).
J. Gregory Bedner
ADI Technology Corp.
Another Hot Technology
I have no problems with the technologies you list [in your Hot Technology Picks] (WT, Dec. 21), but would add one: GPS. It's been with us for many years, but is about to make a breakthrough that could make geolocation ubiquitous. GPS will be tightly linked to the spread of PCS, existing cellular systems, and LEO comsat systems. Because "GPS on a chip" is now available, there will be little reason not to include it in most communications systems.
Name withheld upon request