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2/13/2003
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Business Technology: A Simple Solution To Government Waste

We need to chat about the federal government, and as is my custom, I'm going to ask for your help and counsel.

But first, to help establish the context, here's a reminder that the legendary baseball manager and ultimate master of garbled doublespeak, Casey Stengel, testified before the U.S. Senate in 1958 during its hearings on Major League Baseball's exemption from antitrust status. Stengel's astoundingly convoluted and profoundly non-sequiturial answers to fairly straightforward questions truly make you sit back and ask, "What in the world goes on in our nation's capital?"

At one point, an utterly bewildered Sen. Estes Kefauver asks this follow-up question: "Mr. Stengel, I am not sure that I made my question clear." To which Casey replies, "Yes, sir. Well, that is all right. I am not sure I am going to answer yours perfectly, either." (The full Q&A, including additional commentary from Mickey Mantle, can be found in The Baseball Reader, edited by Charles Einstein McGraw Hill, 1983; it was taken from The Congressional Record. It is hilarious and unlike anything I've ever read.)

Against that backdrop, we enter the world of the federal government with some sense of the need to willingly suspend our disbelief. At the same time, I think that we in the field of business technology might have an extra degree of sympathy for some of what happens inside the Beltway with IT because the numbers there are so huge, the installed legacy infrastructure so massive, the objectives so diverse, and the goals shifting so rapidly. (Do some of those hit close to home?)

Perhaps it is time for some European leaders to pay a visit to Normandy: There, high above the sea, is a cemetery where nearly 10,000 American soldiers are buried, row upon row upon row of young men who gave their lives to rid Europe of Nazi oppression. It is due to American courage and generosity that countries such as France and Germany and other European states are today free, vibrant democracies.

-- Fatos Nano, Prime Minister of Albania, in a letter to The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 13, 2003


But let me get to the point: Mark Forman, who last year graced the cover of InformationWeek ("The Buck Stops Here") and is arguably the most powerful voice in shaping U.S. public-sector IT strategies and policies, said last week that the federal government might be wasting up to $12 billion each year on redundant systems and services. That's $12 billion with a B, or $1 billion a month, or $230 million a week, or $33 million per day.

The problem, according to Forman, is sheer volume: Across its various branches and agencies and departments, the federal government is undertaking 5,000 projects simultaneously. As our Eric Chabrow reported last week ("Billions Wasted On Redundant Federal IT Spending"), it's a matter of too few people overseeing too many massive projects: "Pure and simple," Forman said, "we don't have enough project managers and solutions architects for the work we ask them to do." Sounds like a pretty tough situation already, and it might get even more challenging as new security initiatives bring new urgency and scope to the already-daunting To-Do list.

So here's where you can help: Do you know a great project manager or solutions architect who'd be interested in tackling some of these 5,000 IT projects? Please refer her or him to the page on the Web mentioned above for links to contacts in the federal government to which resumés can be sent. With the job market so tough these days, perhaps some terrific people who are out of work can be matched with jobs that will help all of us.

Meanwhile, as Chabrow's news story noted, Forman and others are hacking away at the redundant-spending problem via 24 E-government initiatives focused on developing common systems, and Forman hopes such efforts could cut government IT costs by 25%. Which should give all of us hope that the answer to the question, "How do you manage 5,000 IT projects simultaneously?" will be far better than a Stengelesque ramble to the depths of the inscrutable.

Bob Evans
Editor in Chief
bevans@cmp.com

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