From the Editor's Desk

Boeing Sale Fans Acquisition Fires<@VM>Letter

Trish Williams, Editor

Trish Williams

The planned sale of Boeing Information Services has unleashed rabid speculation about the posse of potential bidders and signals even faster consolidation of the government IT industry in 1999.

The list of candidates likely to pick up the aerospace giant's defense-laden information services unit, which is estimated to be worth $250 million to $300 million, reads like a Who's Who in the federal contracting arena.

Those names include General Dynamics, Litton-PRC, Northrop Grumman and TRW, all of which have been on buying sprees in recent years as they try to bulk up their information services offerings.

Not to be forgotten are a handful of investor groups with pockets stuffed with enough cash to buy the Boeing unit and droves of other smaller, niche companies. As Washington Technology staff writer Nick Wakeman notes in a front-page story, they include the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based merchant bank with more than $1 billion to blow.

What's driving their zeal for this deal and the scores of other deals insiders say they're working on now? As many small to medium-sized companies are finding out, size matters a lot in a government IT market that places a premium on shared savings contracts and governmentwide contract vehicles that require large upfront investments but no guaranteed revenues. Large-scale outsourcing of key government IT functions also requires a broad range of capabilities and service offerings.

All of this is likely to mean a vastly different federal marketplace than even a few years ago. Indeed, the landscape is likely to shift greatly from one dotted with scores of medium to large-sized companies to one with 10 large companies on the top tier and a lot of Mom & Pop, or niche players, at the other end.
What is Computer Literacy?

In a recent Net Log column, your columnist asked a question that I have been trying to answer myself: What is computer literacy?

As a father of three school-age children, I have been trying to learn how to prepare my kids to compete in the working world. They are all comfortable using the computer for playing games (all educational games, of course), looking up facts in the online encyclopedias and pulling out some hard-to-find information.

Is that considered literacy? Against what standard do I measure their progress? With the explosion of Web sites available, how do I teach them to be discerning users of information and to determine what is fact and what is fiction?

I have also been involved in a couple of citizens advisory panels to determine technology policy for our school. Without exception, the discussion has stopped with how to fund the equipment. Very little progress was made toward establishing a coherent policy. It seems we are content with teaching keyboard skills and general familiarity with the equipment.

Surely, there is more we can be doing.

Lane McVae

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