Outsourcing the Government

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2007-04-02 Print this article Print

A year after U.S. Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham was sentenced to prison in one the biggest federal information-technology scandals ever, details about the case continue to emerge.

Outsourcing the Government

Today, the intelligence community and the Defense Department are also relying increasingly on the vendor community to oversee their own projects, according to Input. This is due in large part to both the Bush and Clinton administrations' decisions to downsize, privatize and outsource more and more government functions.

Consequently, there's a dearth of I.T. talent and experienced people on the federal payroll. The National Academy of Public Administration estimates that approximately 50% of the federal government information-technology workforce is near eligibility to retire, and that there will be a shortage of technically skilled replacements.

The CIA in its heyday had a Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) that was, says former CIA senior analyst Melvin Goodman, comprised of the "strongest technical team in the history of the intelligence community." Its accomplishments were the stuff of legend: Its surveillance systems ensured that Russia never procured a strategic weapons system that had not been monitored by the CIA in its deployment, resting or even developmental stage, Goodman says. It pioneered data mining and retrieval systems, developed microwave technology that increased the speed of computers, and developed a system to project so-called ghost aircraft on enemy radar, he says.

But in recent years, the storied DS&T has fallen on hard times, according to Goodman, losing many of its resources and top people. "The Pentagon was never in favor of the CIA," says Goodman, who notes that the military has now taken control of all technical collection systems while former CIA director George Tenet appointed a non-scientist to the post of deputy director for the DS&T in 2001. This, Goodman claims, further demoralized scientists and technicians in the intelligence community. At presstime, the CIA had not responded to Baseline calls about DS&T.

But it's not just the loss of people. It's also the loss of key skills. More specifically, there's a growing shortage of experienced procurement and acquisition officers in the government. According to a December 2006 report by the congressionally appointed Acquisition Advisory Panel, made up of experts in acquisition law and government acquisition policy, "Since the mid-1990s, the federal acquisition workforce has been reduced by 50%, and hiring virtually ceased, creating what has been termed the Ôbathtub effect,' a severe shortage of procurement professionals with between five and 15 years of experience and the knowledge to serve as a watchdog for potential problems. The impact of these events has left its mark on government operations, creating a shortage of certain capabilities and expertise in government ranks."

The upshot: an increasing reliance on technology service providers and a diminishing capacity to evaluate technology vendors and their offerings, supervise their performance, and hold them accountable for delivering on time and within budget. That, say Amey and other government watchdogs, leaves the doors wide open to the kind of contracting abuses that occurred in conjunction with the Duke Cunningham scandal.

The damage that government downsizing can cause is perhaps underscored most vividly at the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal government's acquisition agency, which evaluates contractors and has the authority to suspend a contractor from government work if the company is pursuing illegal or unethical practices. By December 2005, when the Cunningham scandal broke, the entire staff of GSA's so-called Supervision and Disbarment function had either been transferred or had retired, a source close to the agency says. The Supervision and Disbarment function has subsequently staffed up, but in 2005 the GSA didn't have the resources to go after the contractors that were dealing with Cunningham. The GSA, when contacted by Baseline, had no official comment.

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