The government should put its own house in order before it tries to compete with industry.
Look at the Department of Agriculture, which was recently lashed by Congress for failing to fix its networks.
The Federal Aviation Administration clearly thinks otherwise; It gave the Agriculture Department's National Information Technology Center a contract worth up to $250 million to support the agency's administrative information systems.
Agriculture officials argue that the contract rightfully went to their best center, located in Kansas City, Mo. They may be right, but if so, that center should be given the task of fixing the department's other centers before trying to compete against private industry.
What next? Perhaps the FAA should discard the difficult task of modernizing its air traffic control system and instead pursue a contract to fix the year 2000 problems in the Pentagon's weaponry.That would free up the Pentagon to repair the Health Care Financing Administration's crippled Medicare Transaction System. Then HCFA could take up the job of building an automated tax system for the Internal Revenue Service.
There are some long-overlooked advantages to this approach. Everyone's back gets scratched, nobody will get fired when a project goes off the rails, the taxpayers save a few bucks that would otherwise be spent on judging contract bids and we could put all those underemployed bureaucrats to work.
Moreover, those vendors that make hardware and software for the agencies could fire their marketing staffs and simply truck their product over to the agencies' loading docks.
This approach also could free up a lot of real estate now occupied by systems integrators once those integrators follow the same innovative management principle and open up burger joints and muffler repair centers.
On second thought, perhaps everyone should stick to their knitting. That traditional idea that everyone should do what they do best seems to have proved itself over the last 2,000 years, and perhaps should not be discarded to save a few government computer centers from being downsized.