Is There Only One Right Way to Go About IT Procurement Reform?

This post, written by Jonathan Messinger, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum

A couple weeks ago, we noted how two of the most prominent voices calling for IT procurement reform seemed to be at odds. Stan Soloway, head of the Professional Services Council and Department of Better Technology CEO Clay Johnson. Yesterday, NPR’s “All Tech Considered” also ran a piece about the Soloway’s and Johnson’s views, setting them up once again as diametrically opposed.

Here’s how NPR—and in fairness, the participants—framed the debate:

Stan Soloway heads the Professional Services Council, which represents federal contractors who are hired to build these projects. He told The Times he sees the problem as the “punishing and punitive” environment of government.…

Instead, [Johnson] sees the issue as being an environment that doesn’t favor competition, which boosts incumbents who do mediocre or even poor work.

So the debate now seems to be: Is the problem poor project management, or poor competition? And my question becomes: Does one seem oppositional to the other? I suppose one could argue that either project management or poor competition is the more pressing problem, but that hardly seems to matter if we’re interested in comprehensive IT procurement reform. There isn’t enough competition not just because the FAR is byzantine and restrictive, but also because the government doesn’t do a good job of collaborating with suppliers, understanding its own requirements so that it can seek more creative suppliers.

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  1. Trevor Black:

    To paraphrase John McEnroe “you cannot be serious”. Poor project management is a major problem irrespective of whether there is a sole supplier or highly competitive market. The core of the problem lies where Government engages in the procurement process on the basis of some theoretical politically driven “good idea”. Some of these projects are so huge and unwieldy that any chances of “good” project management are limited. I believe that the major IT suppliers will always engage with these projects as they are a cash cow and will always ensure huge returns even when the project is cancelled. Deciding not to bid on the grounds that the project has unrealistic expectations is not an option as they would alienate the politicians of the day who look to them for support. As long as the commercial void persists in the depths of Whitehall it will remain a win-win situation for the suppliers.

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