Obama pushes for commodity IT purchasing

Aim is to reform IT management though better purchasing.

In his fiscal 2012 budget proposal, President Barack Obama is beginning to push the government harder toward purchasing IT as a commodity in order to save billions of dollars in duplicative spending.

The budget proposal addresses issues that align with the Office of Management and Budget’s 25-point plan to reform IT management which seeks to use the sheer size of the government as a buyer to get better prices for general IT items that all federal agencies need.

These commodity applications include, for example, email across functional organizations. In that vein, the General Services Administration will create governmentwide contracts for cloud-based email solutions with a set of baseline functional and technical requirements by the end of 2011.

In the budget proposal, the Obama administration said it’s implementing OMB’s plan, which will focus on turning around poorly performing IT projects and getting agencies to shorten the time it takes to buy IT. The two-year budget cycle and the months afterward that it takes for Congress to pass an appropriations bill is a lifetime in the IT world, according to Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal.

The president also wants to shift “the mindset from building custom systems to adopting lighter technologies and shared solutions,” the budget states.

However, one expert said OMB’s idea of buying IT purchasing as a commodity hasn’t worked in the past.

Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, said countless numbers of federal executives and administrations have tried to buy IT as a commodity but small differences have caused big problems.

“Commoditization is a favorite topic of OMB budget wonks. The reality, though, is that very little is really a true commodity,” Allen said.

Each agency and most agencies’ subdepartments, vary at least slightly in their IT needs. One commodity would not fit all in the government IT world.

“It would be foolish to think that commoditization of IT will achieve much more than decreasing the overall functionality of government,” he said.

The better approach he said is for an agency to understand early on in the buying process what it needs its IT to accomplish, and, once figured out, buy the IT in the most competitive and efficient means possible.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

Reader Comments

Tue, Feb 15, 2011

Best not to use 'data-at-rest' as a good example. Around here, a lot of the data ends up resting in peace, and a lot of laptops end up getting reimaged. No argument that data-at-rest is needed, but the solution we bought has had only limited success, at best.

Tue, Feb 15, 2011 David Hollis

An example of a rapid, government-wide acquisition process, the intergovernmental DoD-GSA led Data at Rest Tiger Team (DARTT) awarded multiple competitive Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) for purchase of encryption products for protection of sensitive government data on mobile computing devices and removable storage media. This proces was completed in six months (Industry Day on 17 December 2006 to announcment of award on 20 June 2007). This Team consisted of 20 DoD components, 18 Federal civilian agencies, NATO C3 Agency, and State/Local governments. USAF 754th ELSG was the contracting office under the DoD Enterprise Software Initiative. It represented the first effort to leverage the entirety of the USG to achieve huge product and volume discounts (often 90-98% off of previous GSA Schedule pricing). It provided USG customers with a set of acquisition vehicles containing ten interchangeable products for selection by individual agencies with disparate networks (avoiding the 'commodity vs best-of-breed' conflict). This process allows for after-award competition that maintains these vendor discounts. It also had an after-award process for Technology Refreshment that allowed the vendors on the five-year contract to upgrade their accepted products and offer vetted new related technologies for USG customers.

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