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Outsourcers Could Play A Major Role In Federal Emergency Preparedness

Federal CIOs push for a better understanding of how outsourcers could continue providing public services in crises

During a panel discussion on emergency preparedness at the federal Executive Leadership Conference last fall, several senior government officials had the same epiphany: Outsourced IT could play a major role in keeping the government in business during a national crisis.

Justice Department CIO Vance Hitch and Health and Human Services CIO Charles Havekost were on that panel, and both began thinking of ways that outsourcing might mitigate some of the risks associated with natural disasters or terrorist attacks. These could be IT functions that the government always runs in-house, Havekost says, but when it comes to emergency preparedness "there may be a value proposition to use a commercial provider."

For example, if a government building was put out of commission during an emergency, officials would be able to access those outsourced systems and services. Availability during an emergency or crisis is one of the advantages Havekost sees in his agency's recent decision to replace its 13 E-mail systems with a hosted E-mail service.

Havekost and other CIOs involved in that emergency preparedness panel discussion have since brought up the issue with the federal CIO Council, an interagency group that seeks ways to improve federal agencies' use of information resources. The council turned to the Industry Advisory Council, a group of tech experts from business and government, which is part of the American Council for Technology, a not-for-profit group that advises the government on IT issues. The IAC now has a National Emergency Outsourcing Task Force investigating how technology outsourcing can help government agencies function during an emergency.

The task force is studying existing and planned federal outsourcing initiatives to provide information on outsourcing projects that could help government agencies with planning, response, and recovery during a national emergency. The group also is studying areas hit by Hurricane Katrina to see if IT outsourcing can help deliver services to citizens.

As part of its work, the task force also is evaluating when it makes sense to use outsourced IT as part of emergency preparedness efforts and will present its findings in June at an American Council for Technology conference on change management.

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