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Kundra's 'IT cartel:' Fact or fiction?

Does a “cartel” of contractors exert inordinate control over government contracting, encouraging agencies to stick with dated technologies and slowing the move to cloud computing and other updates?

Former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra thinks so, and said so in an editorial he published in the New York Times. Our report on his comments drew fire from readers on both sides of the argument.

“Darth Vader Mentor” admitted being “not a fan of Kundra” before partially agreeing with Kundra’s argument.

"Many CIO's think that big firms are good for government," Mr. Vader wrote. "The result is more often than not the inverse. Unfortunately, this statement is typical Kundra. He points out the flaw, but never the solution. The solution lies in re-educating the upper management or replacing it if they cannot be unbiased to big firms.”

“I don't entirely agree with [using] ‘the cloud’ for everything, but I do absolutely agree with the concept of the contractor cartel holding up agencies from maximizing taxpayer dollars on IT projects,” another reader wrote. “Having spent my career doing federal IT, both as a contractor and a fed, I know first hand the woes and dysfunctions of this relationship.”

Other readers dismissed Kundra’s allegations.

“Kundra's most recent comments are much like most of his other contributions to the government IT community: looks good, sounds good and does no good,” one critic wrote. “I find it difficult to see how the IT contractor cartel, a creation of the government’s own ludicrous contracting machinery, is holding back new technology. They thrive not only on change, but even more on thrash.”

Another reader agreed there’s a problem, but disagreed with Kundra’s diagnosis of the cause. “For at least 20 years, government has allowed contractors to create a monster of processes and controls and boards that require even more contractors to keep track of,” that reader wrote. “Over-dependence on profit-minded contractors instead of maintaining a technically competent government workforce has gotten the government where it is today.”

Kundra’s tenure as federal CIO was polarizing – some hailed him as a visionary, while others thought his ideas were academic and impractical – and in his departure, he’s no less divisive.

“Nice of Kundra to take strike a few low blows on his way out the door,” wrote a reader in the latter camp. “It appears his cloud-first policy was not going as smoothly as he would have liked, so he leaves and blames the ‘IT cartel’ for his shortcomings. There are multiple impediments to moving government to the cloud and contractors play a role in that, but they are certainly not the root cause.”

Posted on Sep 02, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Reader Comments

Tue, Sep 13, 2011

Kundra would not know a security threat if it was in his office. At least he did not when he was CIO for DC government. I tried to respect this guy when he was first appointed--thinking the press coverage might have been over-reached in some early criticism of him. Now as I reflect on his work as the Federal CIO and at his quick exit I was left with the conclusion that he gave good speeches and was a lousy CIO in the execution phase. Now I think he even gives lousy speeches ant "Op-Ed" pieces. Glad he is gone.

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 PR DC

Kundra is partially correct -- but our acquisition policies are designed for production controls, not outcomes. The latter requires flexibility and agility -- which are synonymous with "scope creep" or "out of scope" work. Nonetheless I am impressed with the inability of various commentors on this subject to spell correctly or observe simple grammatical rules. Yikes.

Wed, Sep 7, 2011

At least somebody like Kundra is speaking the truth. I have seen these. IT contracts in Fed are terrible waste of tax dollars. Politicians limit salary and hence the Fed cannot hire top IT professionals. The result is a bunch of buffoons leading government IT contracts and getting no result from the consulting companies. Consulting companies have no interest in delivering the results if they get paid without. It is all about politics and planned incompetency in government.

Wed, Sep 7, 2011 mike California

Did he ever hear of out of scope or the FAR. They are controls on Contractors and they are defined by the contract you sign and the task orders you are given. A contractor cannot change course and do work that is out of scope for the contract. So I guess if we blow off the FAR, task orders and the contracts we could move to the cloud in rapid order, and then let the lawsuits begin. It would of been nice if he stayed and worked on his dream, but got frustrated and left. Look over his career he has not stayed anywhere very long. Bye and say hi to Chris Kemp while your at it. another frustrated Fed who left because he cold not change things fast enough. When the going get tough the tough get going to work on the problem.

Wed, Sep 7, 2011 Donny

Never met they guy but I think he is 'marketing' himself and repostioning for new job etc., His observation is somewhat accurate in the cartel concept but what he fails to understand it is a cartel aided and abetted by government not industry and those pesky little ole rules about security our government not industry. BTW his observations of 1,000s of exisitng gov systems now on the cloud is correct - what he will not acknowledge are the government laws and rules driving the requirements established for those systems. The attributes for those systems (he calls a cartel) do not now exist now nor will they ever exist w/o major costs in the emerging 'new clouds'. In my opinion, he is a poser when it comes to taking technology into real world practice - he just doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to complete the work.

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