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United States Government IT Technology

Who's Controlling Our Vital Information Systems? 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
HangingChad writes "Gary Lyndaker talks about Janine Wedel's Shadow Elite; about how our information infrastructure is increasingly being sold off to the low bidder. Contracting in state and federal government is rampant, leaving more and more of our nation's vital information in the hands of contractors, many of whom have their own agenda and set of rules. From the article: 'Over 25 years, as an information systems developer, manager, and administrator in both state and private organizations, I have increasingly come to the conclusion that we are putting our state's operations at risk and compromising the trust of the people of our state by outsourcing core government functions.' I've seen the same thing in my years in government IT, ironically much of it as a contractor. My opinion is this is a dangerous trend that needs to be reversed. We're being fleeced while being put at risk."
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Who's Controlling Our Vital Information Systems?

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  • re Who? (Score:5, Funny)

    by jelizondo (183861) * <jerry.elizondo@gm a i l . com> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:03AM (#30869316)

    Who's on first!

    • Radical idea? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Here is a radical idea that meshes with the US Constitution: maybe the government should NOT be in all this business in the first place? Then it wouldn't be an issue.

      • Re:Radical idea? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by causality (777677) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @10:23AM (#30869806)

        Here is a radical idea that meshes with the US Constitution

        That seems to be the definition of "radical" these days. I guess that also makes you a right-wing extremist or an anarcho-libertarian. Isn't that what they call anyone who wants a minimal federal government that derives all of its authority and purpose from a literal, strict reading of the Constitution?

        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I guess that also makes you a right-wing extremist or an anarcho-libertarian. Isn't that what they call anyone who wants a minimal federal government that derives all of its authority and purpose from a literal, strict reading of the Constitution?

          The Libertarians would also sell off our roads to the Chinese despite the Constitution calling for federal regulation of them, so you'll need to find some other name for people wanting a literal reading of the Constitution (like "strict constructionist")

          • Re:Radical idea? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by causality (777677) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @11:16AM (#30870120)

            I guess that also makes you a right-wing extremist or an anarcho-libertarian. Isn't that what they call anyone who wants a minimal federal government that derives all of its authority and purpose from a literal, strict reading of the Constitution?

            The Libertarians would also sell off our roads to the Chinese despite the Constitution calling for federal regulation of them, so you'll need to find some other name for people wanting a literal reading of the Constitution (like "strict constructionist")

            My whole point was that the labels were not being used correctly. You are merely reiterating my point. It sometimes surprises me that people can feel such a need to do this that the redundancy of it does not deter them.

            Having said that, it's my personal belief that the truest Libertarians were the Founding Fathers. Today's Libertarian Party as a political organization can either follow in those footsteps or it can fail to do so, but that does not concern me as an individual. Although, I personally do not know of anyone identifying themselves as Libertarian who advocates having the government take actions that are blatantly illegal under the Constitution. That would be like people who refer to themselves as (i.e.) Christian and then do things that clearly contradict the tenets of Christianity. They can say whatever they want, but they are still engaging in hypocrisy.

            If there are self-described "Libertarians" who want to sell public roads to China, they certainly do not represent all Libertarians. Most Libertarian thinkers I have ever heard from are quite the opposite; they believe many of today's problems are caused by the government exceeding its authority and engaging in behaviors that are either unconstitutional or questionably constitutional.

            Like any other philosophy that would radically and favorably alter the status quo if correctly understood and implemented, Libertarianism should be easy to understand but the waters have been muddied on purpose. There is no such confusion of terms with the statists who want an even more dictatorial government that is even more involved in the daily lives of its citizens. Libertarianism is a very simple idea: your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. Until and unless you strike my nose, where and how you swing your fist is none of the government's concern, not even if they think they know what's best for you.

            This is not a rejection of all law enforcement or all regulation. It's a clarification of the purpose thereof. The confusion comes from the assumption that everyone who has any degree of Libertarian thought is a radical, extremist Libertarian who desires an anarco-capitalist society. The purpose of that is to cause people to dismiss the philosophy as absurd without actually examining it. Unfortunately average people won't put apparent absurdity to the test and find out if it is actual absurdity before choosing to dismiss new ideas. If you practice looking deeply into things, you will find that influential people and monied interests are keenly aware of this fact. One mechanism they use to protect their status quo is the gross misrepresentation of any ideas that would change it if implemented.

            • Re:Radical idea? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by raddan (519638) * on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:19PM (#30870610)
              Like any good programmer, I myself have Libertarian learnings. I mean-- who doesn't like the idea that a simple and elegant system of governance will produce the best outcome? It's a principle that has served me well in my years of building reliable software.

              But there are a couple blind spots in the Libertarian philosophy. One is that, even in cases where government intervention is undesirable, merely having their presence ads a great deal of stability. E.g., fundamental science research would be largely stagnant without organizations such as the NSF, NIH, NIST, and NASA (among many others). Becoming an expert (i.e., PhD) in something like physics or computer science takes a great deal of time and personal sacrifice. Making it risky as well would largely kill those fields; and having experts of that kind are a matter of national importance. These organizations keep the flow of money steady so that, for the most part, when you get your degree, you can find employment. Likewise, we really want a stable, enduring organization to ensure that we have roads, bridges, railways, etc. The presence and overall reliability of these things means that commerce can move ahead unimpeded. The cost of maintaining, e.g., the route from California's orchards to Massachusetts' supermarkets is largely externalized from the cost of growing and selling produce.

              And that brings me to the other blind spot: global competition. Sadly, we cannot be a nation unto itself anymore. We are a player in a global marketplace-- there's no going back. When you have to compete against nations like China, which artificially manipulates its currency value to stay competitive, which engages in human rights abuses to keep labor costs low, which ignores costly pollution controls (at the expense of the rest of the world) to keep their products cheap-- you cannot compete unless you have a big player that can even the odds a little. Modern statehood is a very complicated thing, and I think that most Libertarians really are living in the past to some degree, evidenced largely by their frequent calls to "Constitutionality". Hey, the world's changed in the last 230 years! It's a good document, but it was also expected to be a living document.

              As you suggest, we should indeed clarify the purpose of regulation. E.g., as we've now discovered, the Glass-Steagall act was an essential bit of market regulation-- it kept the markets from being so volatile that people lost their trust in the system. If putting your money into a bank is the same thing as putting your money on a gambling table, well, you're going to put your money under your mattress instead. Given that a safe lending system is a major source of entrepreneurship and upward mobility, having lending dry up is a major problem for an economy that wants to keep growing. We just need to make sure that "re-examining" our legislation is not the same thing as throwing it all out. I'd gladly switch to a simple flat tax if there was some assurance that wealthy people and corporations actually paid up. As it is, those people and their companies use the national infrastructure that is paid for with the hard work of the rest of us.
              • by jesset77 (759149)

                I think it's important to note that just because competing nations abuse human rights and erode their own foundations is no call for us to do the same.

                We believe that an individual's freedom to choose their own destiny is the heart of what makes our nation great and powerful. This is how we founded our nation. If we really believe this we should fight to maintain this standard. Rolling over to government corruption or multinational corporate rape does nothing to strengthen our nation.

                So far as the constitut

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by causality (777677)
                My own beliefs are also strongly influenced by Libertarian philosophy, though I am not inclined to derive any aspect of my identity from simplistic labels. Thus, I don't call myself a Libertarian because I reserve the right to differ from their stated positions.

                I recognize three roles that are legitimate purposes of government. Any legitimate authority government has derives from its service of these three things: defense, law enforcement, and public works. Anything else is an overextension and is li
              • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                by GameboyRMH (1153867)

                Great post! I can totally agree, although I wouldn't call myself a libertarian (and a lot of libertarians wouldn't call you a libertarian).

                Like any good programmer, I myself have Libertarian learnings. I mean-- who doesn't like the idea that a simple and elegant system of governance will produce the best outcome?

                It's just too bad that you started it off by equating people with code :-\

                I nearly stopped reading there.

                • by TheLink (130905)
                  The trouble is most libertarians are barking up the wrong tree asking for small government.

                  It should be about quality and not quantity.

                  Sticking with the code example, good programmers know that the quality of a program is not measured by the number of lines, or even its apparent simplicity and elegance.

                  Just because a program is a simple and elegant one-liner doesn't make it good or even correct. A 10 million line program is not necessarily good either.

                  And very often when a simple and elegant algorithm meets
              • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

                by Anonymous Coward

                Glass-Steagall act was an essential bit of market regulation-- it kept the markets from being so volatile that people lost their trust in the system.

                Glass-Steagall was designed to protect mortgages and savings accounts from the usurious, predatory and risky practices of investment banks. Trust was not the issue. The issue was risk. Mortgages and savings accounts were completely protected from the likes of Morgan Stanley, Bear Stearns, et al, for nearly 50 years. It wasn't until the 1980 and 90's under Reagan, Bush & Clinton that the banking industry (led by Citibank) began successfully to lobby Congress in order systematically gut the Pecora hearin

              • I think your ideas are ok, but consider this, in general... if the govt hadn't interfered with the way our country did business, a lot of the problems you think the govt ought to be fixin' just would never have come up in the first place. As for your say about science and education, if the govt's involvement hadn't lost American jobs to overseas agents, there'd be a lot more companies here needing PHDs to keep up with the rest of the world (competition?) As for your economic viewpoint, wasn't it the govt wh
            • The DoI and USA Constitution (IMHO) set forth ideals that enfranchise and empower The People of the USA.

              Political, Religious, Economic parties and dogma seek to enfranchise and empower their totalitarian institutions and those individuals that abide and thrive with dogma.

              The People that reason effective, know that dogma affected people are not USA Citizens and Patriots, which defend and protect the The DoI from tyranny, The USA Constitution, guaranteed civil rights of The People, and will never seek the op

            • The notion of Libertarian that you put forth is fine and dandy; I'd vote for a Libertarian-controlled govt anytime, except this.... just because a person running for office calls himself a 'Libertarian', doesn't necessarily mean he will act 'Libertarian' once elected. It seems that in order for a candidate to be successful, he MUST lie to the people, telling them whatever he thinks they want to hear, or he won't get elected, and then once elected, he MUST screw the hell out of us all because that's how the
        • Isn't that what they call anyone who wants a minimal federal government that derives all of its authority and purpose from a literal, strict reading of the Constitution?

          One thing that I'd like to note is that such reading of the Constitution does not preclude the individual States from having strong government that frequently exercises its authority; apart from respecting certain freedoms specifically delineated in the U.S. Constitution, they're free to do as they will, including becoming welfare states. I do believe this is as it should be - i.e. the point of U.S. was to decentralize the state by splitting it into smaller parts that are still manageable in a true democrat

  • by adosch (1397357) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:17AM (#30869396)
    Unfortunately this is the way our American gov't operates: Bottom-line management style approach to everything with only the lowest budget in mind. It's really no different than people in society who try to live and act like rockstar's on a McDonald's budget. FTFA, IT, in particular, is in shambles because the mass employee attrition related to budget woes. So maybe you get the "diamond-in-the-rough" person who picked up the in's and out's of the infrastructure and singlely-handed administers the whole network themselves, you'd be ignorant to think he's going to stick any long when anything remotely better in the private sector surfaces again. Just like any place, Gov't IT creates their own single point of failure because they 1) Won't purchase what you need to succeed because they are under the esteemed impression that they pay you to come up with enterprise solutions out of thin-air, and 2) charge the gov't 1.5x the salary than they are paying the contractors to do it. You don't build tenure and stability that way, folks.
    • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:56AM (#30869644) Homepage
      The government has always gone for the lowest bidder and then people say their stuff is shit. But if they started paying more then they'd be accused of wasting tax payer money.

      Sure there is still government waste but until people realise that the government should spend a premium for some stuff while people vote out those who just waste money.
      • The government seldom picks the lowest bidder or the best technology proposal (Can't do a google search, spell-check) . In the case of telecommunications/IT (FBI, CIA, DoD... how many ISE failures and redo-solutions) the CIO/G6 is typically a business management position, not a technology (science, engineering...) management position. CIO/G6 certification in .gov or .mil domain does not require experience or an understanding of binary, protocols, benchmarks, classmarks....

        CIO/G6 .gov, .mil... SES (most, not

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has done any number of stories over the past couple of years that indicate IT contractors are significantly more expensive than Wisconsin state employees. The problem (in WI) is that you can find money to hire contract staff build your application; you can't get additional positions to build it. Getting additional positions is almost impossible.

      So you pony up money, hire contract staff, and build the application for some factor N greater cost, but you do get your applicat
      • by will_die (586523)
        The major reason is that the states and federal governments want to hire IT people with a Master degree or close to 10 years experience and pay between $50,000 and $65,000.
        You pay that little vs the market rate and of course the state people are cheaper and those people you do have are not the cream of the crop.
    • Even dumber (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@gm a i l.com> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @11:10AM (#30870084) Homepage Journal

      Is that ultimately, disabling an in-house government operation actually winds up raising overall costs in the long run. Initially, yeah, the venture capitalists that fund the privatization give the feds a pretty good deal, but contrary to all the babble about short sightedness, these folks are in it for the long haul. They bide their time, and let the inevitable churn of politics and government action mean a greater demand for services, which they provide.

      Seriously, right now we are spending record peacetime levels on defense, and what do we have, but only 1700 fighter aircraft for the USAF, not even 300 ships for the USN, and the whole time the contractors wave around "complexity" as if it is a magic bullet to allow brute force engineering that costs a fortune, cost overruns and bad designs papered over in "blocks".

      I point at the F-22, as exhibit A, the littoral combat ship, the next generation aircraft carrier. All of this stuff is, well, pretty feature rich, but, the F-22 needs a thousand people a pop to get it off the ground, which is insane, the LCS is now too expensive to be the disposable combat vessel it was supposed to be, and the next generation aircraft carrier is insane.

      When you are down to just -one- possible vendor for the government, at that point, you almost have to just nationalize the business.

      • by haus (129916) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:03PM (#30870476) Homepage Journal

        Seriously, right now we are spending record peacetime levels on defense...

        Peacetime??? We have admitted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This does not count the military efforts in Pakistan and Yeman. This is far from any definition of Peacetime.

        Unfortunately it seems that a vast amount of our military spending is for equipment not well suited for the types of demands that we have placed upon or military.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by QuantumRiff (120817)

          No, the OP is right. We are spending Record Peacetime Levels. All funding for the wars that we are currently in, come from supplemental and emergency budgets. Basically, we pay for our normal military costs, and borrow to pay for the wars. It was determined that it would be politically bad to ask for the money upfront, in a normal budget, because then the "other" party could talk about how much was getting spent. (remember when I guy got asked to resign, for saying the Iraq war could cost upwards of 15

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by raddan (519638) *

        Seriously, right now we are spending record peacetime levels on defense

        I assume you're in the U.S., so I have to say... wha? We're in two wars right now! Maybe you mean that, in our current state of war, we're spending many multiples of peacetime levels?

        Of course, your point is still valid-- military spending is extremely high even in peacetime. Sadly, that is the cost of being the first to do something. There's a very good account of this phenomena in the book Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age [amazon.com]. Eisenhower was keenly aware of

      • So what do you want to field, the 21st century equivalent of the 'good enough' BF-109? Mass produced mediocrity? The F-22 is, unequivocally, the most superior aircraft extant in its role. What pricetag do you put on 'the best'? What logistical costs are acceptable?

        I would say that designing the LCS to be disposable was a bad idea in the first place. There should be only three design goals for any military hardware 1) crew safety 2) combat effectiveness 3) resource efficiency in operation. If it costs mor
        • by tjstork (137384)

          The F-22 is, unequivocally, the most superior aircraft extant in its role. What pricetag do you put on 'the best'? What logistical costs are acceptable?

          When it flies. The readiness on this plane is terrible. It's a first strike only aircraft and cannot be scrambled on an alert.

        • You'll get things like the P-39, where the brass decided they could save money on the engine, at the cost of making it a combat ineffective death trap.

          P-39, an "ineffective death trap", really? It was so ineffective that it was the plane of choice of several Soviet fighter aces - such as Alexandr Pokryshkin, who also happened to be the 3rd highest scoring Allied ace. In fact, Soviet pilots scored more kills flying P-39 than anyone else, including Americans themselves.

          Another ironic thing is that P-39 is actually the aircraft that still holds the honor of being the highest-scoring U.S.-made aircraft ever - 44 confirmed kills by one pilot - thanks to anothe

          • The P-39 was dumped on the Soviets precisely because Americans hated to fly it and it was known to be inferior. Do you think we would give the soviets anything we truly believed was good? How many Mustangs or B-17s did we give them? None. The top of the line was kept at home.

            The Soviet airmen should be commended for being able to take lemons and make lemonade, but that doesn't mean they weren't still lemons.

            You say yourself, 'later tanks' aka they learned the lesson too late. If they hadn't cheaped out o
      • Military project costs tend to blowout, yet governments keep signing up for projects with unproven technologies and surprisingly low initial costs. As long as everyone gets their share of Congressional pork, don't expect this to change.

        While the F-22 is damned expensive, it's also the best fighter aircraft in the world, so there's at least some value in owning them. It's high-end features are best utilised with a large fleet of lesser aircraft that are cheaper to purchase and maintain. Which the USAF

        • by mpe (36238)
          The worst problem with the F-35 is that it's overkill for most of its intended uses (stealth is useless for bombing third-world dictators and terrorists), while it's also unlikely to survive against current or future SAM systems (60's era Soviet VHF radars can easily detect stealth fighters and the F-35 lacks the speed or maneuverability to survive once detected).

          It's rather a big hole in the concept of "stealth" when it can be defeated by 50 year old technology. Wonder how well it would do against "Chain
        • by tjstork (137384)

          while it's also unlikely to survive against current or future SAM systems (60's era Soviet VHF radars can easily detect stealth fighters and the F-35 lacks the speed or maneuverability to survive once detected

          At least the Superhornet is ok in the speed department. I like the F-22 for the speedy airframe and advanced avionics, and gasp, I dare say that one might wonder whether for some missions we might just as well keep the plane but trade off some of its stealthy features just so it would be operational mo

        • The worst problem with the F-35 is that it's overkill for most of its intended uses (stealth is useless for bombing third-world dictators and terrorists), while it's also unlikely to survive against current or future SAM systems

          We already know how to deal with SAM systems that are an actual threat for planes like F-35 in the scenario ("third-world dictators and terrorists") you describe - you just send in low-flying attack choppers first, and they clear a passage. It's precisely how it was done at the beginning of Desert Storm.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Regarding... Bottom-line management style approach to everything with only the lowest budget in mind.

      You're just kidding, right? I actually wish there was some truth to that but it's just patently false.

      Govt "management style" includes petty power plays to protect their little fiefdoms at all costs including inpenetrable and unaccountable bureaucracy with endless and meaningless rules. The more rules you make, the more powerful you are.

      They measure their personal success in terms of the size of th
  • by wheelema (46997) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:21AM (#30869412)

    Budget strapped State/County/Municipal I.T. organizations do not employ the best and brightest and their budgeting process is simplified by off loading functionality at a constant fixed cost. It is with this in mind that outsourcing firms market services to them. Once that contract is signed... usually with language that gives the contractor significant leeway and discretion to torque their service model so as to maximize profitability... the problem is off of everyone's mind. I.T. management is free to focus elsewhere, the contractor is free to find new worlds to conquer, and no one gives a damn if the process delivers what was promised until it's too late.

    Then it's off to Court you go where only the public loses. :(

  • Q: Who controls the vital information systems? A: The botnets? :o
  • Hard vs. Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey! (33014) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:24AM (#30869446) Homepage Journal

    Hard: building a top notch IT organization.

    Easy: paying somebody to hide the problems, firing them when the problems can't be ignored, then hiring another contractor who does exactly the same thing.

    • Re:Hard vs. Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:27AM (#30869464) Journal
      I'm not sure how it works in the USA, but there's a bit of a catch-22 in procurement for IT systems in the UK. One of the factors that is considered important in evaluating bids is that they have a proven track record. This means that they've been awarded government contracts before, but doesn't mean that they have delivered on time, on budget, or at all. Companies like EDS, who have consistently failed, are given priority over other companies that have never been allowed to try. There are countless examples where a small business could have delivered a working system for around £1m, but EDS has been awarded £20m and still failed to actually produce anything that works.
      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        See, you're confused just like a lot of people are. Bidding is not a simple process. I too was confused at why EDS keeps winning contracts, especially when I worked there.

        EDS is very experienced at bidding, since it started as and continues to operate almost entirely as an outsourcing company. It knows what companies want to hear, and has a large number of success stories it can trot out. Every publicly reported disaster can be explained as changing customer requirements, or customer didn't give us all

      • by mpe (36238)
        Companies like EDS, who have consistently failed, are given priority over other companies that have never been allowed to try. There are countless examples where a small business could have delivered a working system for around £1m, but EDS has been awarded £20m and still failed to actually produce anything that works.

        Thing is that the bidding process can itself be very expensive. So that £10m of that could equate to EDS' bidding costs, both sucessful and unsuccessful. A small business p
    • by adosch (1397357)

      Brilliant post. That couldn't be any more right. And I might add:

      ...hiring another contractor who does the exact same thing because of utter lack of qualification and skill.

    • People seem to think good organizations come from Hollywood central casting. The president says 'make it so' and in the next scene you have an office full of analysts looking at big screens and people walking around with clipboards.

      You can't have any kind of good organization without good managers, and government bureaucracies are so suffocating any talented manager will get out as quickly as possible. Contracting out is a way of trying to apply the flexibility of private organizations to public purpose

      • by hey! (33014)

        To outsource successfully, you have to do two things:

        (1) understand the requirements of the thing to be done and write an RFP that reflects that precisely without adding extraneous requirements.

        (2) select a vendor whose proposal meets the requirements and which is capable of delivering on the proposal.

        If the government can't do anything right, it can't do these things either.

        The truth is there are lots of government organizations that do a very competent job at what the do. USGS, for example. NWS is anothe

  • by giladpn (1657217) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:25AM (#30869450)
    There is an interesting debate going on world wide about how best to manage privatization.

    Many successful examples follow the example of government regulating the private sector, but the actual provision of the services being private.

    Just as an example, it seems education in Scandinavian countries is provided like that.

    So why is that bad for IT? It could be a good thing.
    • by BuR4N (512430)

      Just as an example, it seems education in Scandinavian countries is provided like that.

      Yea, its fantastic, instead of a solid public school system that teaches essential knowledge such as math, languages etc, we got private schools that sees everything as a popularity contest, coming up with more and more useless "educations", sucking the money away from the public school system.

      All in all its a grand failure.

      • schools that sees everything as a popularity contest, coming up with more and more useless "educations", sucking the money

        Sounds just like the US public schools to me.

    • I really don't know how to respond to a post like yours -- perhaps you unaware of the article and history of modern life -- perhaps you're simply unaware.

      to put it as unsophisticated as possible -- the American intelligence community is majority privatized -- that means no FOIA, no transparency, no control, and 1,000 times the cost. PERIOD!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...without due diligence and a complete lack of knowledge of what is necessary, does that mean it's absolved of all blame when something goes wrong? If the government makes a series of stupid decisions with regard to contractors, it doesn't mean they will suddenly be able to do the work better themselves, any more than f I chose a restaurant poorly, it means I'll suddenly be able to make delicious meals at home.

    And before anyone can say "businesses are only in it for the money" -- sure, that is almost alway

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:34AM (#30869510)

    And good riddance.

    The contractors do a great job, pay well and don't leave the taxpayers on the hook for an underfunded pension plan.

    And no amount of union screaming will stop it. At the federal, state and local levels, government is INSOLVENT.

    So I expect to see more of this. And I for one welcome it.

  • That's Life (Score:5, Informative)

    by amcdiarmid (856796) <amcdiarm@@@gmail...com> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:35AM (#30869522) Journal

    The Government does not pay all that well (and previously less well). You are talking about large networks, that are very complicated. As a result, you do not have a whole lot of government staff with experience to run a network that is that complicated.

    I work in a very small (5K users) government (federal) office. I have to deal with 12 windows domains, 11 Political groups, and offer support to all Regional Admins, and departmental admins - as well as dealing with a help desk which has been told "we don't investigate error logs."

    Unfortunately, some of the government staff can't find their ***es with both hands. This is because 12 years ago, the government paid much less than the contractors. Good technical people could earn twice a much contracting a working for the government. Those people are still contracting (mostly), and are the ones that you would want in the government running the show. The people who have "more senior" positions in gvt now? They are largely the ones who couldn't get the better paid contracting jobs, and state: Helpdesk personnel should not be investigating application event logs.

    Furthermore, this is also the case for many large businesses: They outsourced the tech support years ago (cheaper); most users get someone in india to change passwords, while sr. staff get concierge service. Those large businesses have similar issues as well: but they have an explicit 2-tier service system.

    It's been going on for years, but I don't see any way to rectify it: especially as the job listings still seem to be opaque, and difficult to decode.

  • Personally I think the biggest problem in government organizations is the lack of effective leadership. They don't run things like the real world works and they aren't usually willing to pay enough money to recruit talent that can.
    • Leadership is the single most important thing when an organization is attempting to complete a task. It doesn't matter how much money, regulation, or attention you give something; if the people in charge don't know what they're doing and aren't building a good team, things are going to head down hill.

    • by PPH (736903)
      They're all political appointees. So there are two things at work here: 1) The job was given to a non-IT crony of the current administration, or b) when this administration is voted out, there goes your job. Better to find a nice cozy home for yourself by delivering a fat contract to some IT support firm (which is probably where you were found by the administration in the first place).
  • An alternative (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Firstly, the notion of hiring private companies to do something (or simply letting them continue to do it, e.g. shopworkers and car repairers) rather than a government doing the same, is a basic politlcal and philosophical question where no "proofs" as to what is best can be found. Both of the alternatives could be argued to have both advantages and disadvantages, and lead to slightly different situations. So the only thing people can do is make rather empty claims and point to empirical studies which may o

  • I have increasingly come to the conclusion that we are putting our state's operations at risk and compromising the trust of the people of our state by outsourcing core government functions.

    Well, my interaction with my state's operations have made me increasingly come to the conclusion that I would trust a rowdy herd of poorly trained chimpanzees over the state's employees. So bring on the contractors, I say.

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      I have increasingly come to the conclusion that we are putting our state's operations at risk and compromising the trust of the people of our state by outsourcing core government functions.

      Well, my interaction with my state's operations have made me increasingly come to the conclusion that I would trust a rowdy herd of poorly trained chimpanzees over the state's employees. So bring on the contractors, I say.

      Contractors are not the problem. Third world software maintenance is the problem. A messed up government in control is far better than your tax records being adjusted by someone on third world wages.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by duffbeer703 (177751)

      I am a state government employee who worked for several years in the private sector. By my reckoning, the distribution of incompetent people is about the same than at your average large company -- they just look different. Most state governments expanded rapidly in the 70's and 80's, so you have this massive cadre of 45-60 year olds who are burnt out and useless. Big corporate places purge the old people, replace them with clueless foreigners (working for a bodyshops that happen to be run by some Exec VP's

  • Ted Turner
  • by haus (129916) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:43AM (#30869572) Homepage Journal

    I have spent over a dozen years working on various federal government systems. I have seen things that would make your head spin.

    But I see no evidence that if contractors were phased of of the Missouri IT systems that things would necessarily get better. Sure the author mentions the grade of 'A' from Governing Magazine, but this is not a heavy hitting name in the IT world, I would not be surprised if a good part of this 'A' grade is because the state has been aggressive with outsourcing of IT.

    Outsourcing it s not an excuse for management to not be involved in these process. It does not matter if work is being done by employees or contractors, it must be managed, a failure to do so will lead to bad situations. What we have here appears to be an inability to manage, changing the color of the badges for those doing the work is not likely to resolve this.

  • The Jobs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by florescent_beige (608235) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:58AM (#30869666) Journal

    I could be totally wrong and often am, but the voices in my head say the /. spin on this speaks to working conditions more then management philosophy.

    Many of us have done early-career stints in larger organizations where we learned to our horror that technical experts are viewed as evil twits, not assets. That's why so many of us nerds of a certain age walk around with pinched pained expressions. Caused by thoughts like, why doesn't anything make any SENSE? You would think, working in technology and all, being a wizard would bring with it a certain amount of status and security. It just doesn't seem to be the case.

    It's not so much the sub vs in-house question as the management vs expert question that always seems to get answered in a predictably bad way. What's even worse, former geeks who grow up and get into decision-making positions are often i.m.experience the worst offenders, becoming the most vicious defenders of the bottom-line view of things, lording it over the rest of us who see our jobs as being to tease Mother Nature into behaving long enough to do something useful. And she's a fickle old witch.

    The big organizations who do seem to do some technology ok, the GEs, the HPs, the IBMs, well as far as I can tell they accomplish it by being practically Darwinian. They have their research chairs sure, but they succeed in business by absolutely grinding middle management into powder so that the survivors are just about sociopaths.

    I don't know, I guess in this phase of human development if a person wants to do something with love and passion it has to be a hobby. A few lucky ones might get paid for it. Everybody else chases bucks.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by nine-times (778537)

      Did you just abbreviate "in my experience" as "i.m.experience"? How many keystrokes did you save on that one?

    • The survivors are not the sociopaths. First of all, there just aren't that many sociopaths.

      The survivors are the ones who learn treat their jobs as routine amoral functions that have no impact on their personal lives or self worth.

  • by silverspringer (1728092) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:59AM (#30869670)

    The bottom line is that the operation of a country's IT infrastructure is a thankless job. There is (literally) no financial incentive to do a good job. There is almost no incentive whatsoever to do a good job; some might argue that reputation and respect are valid incentives but there's not much of that in the government IT world. Build a system where success isn't recognized and you're sure to have failure overall. Why would anyone work for no (significant) money, no respect, no long term benefits, no challenge even (it's not like government systems are cutting edge)?

    Pointing the fingers at contractors is simply extraneous information. Good teams do good work no matter who they work for.

    Fixing the problems is a non-trivial task. Hell, identifying all the problems is a non-trivial task. The only trivial task is the too common announcement of "oh my god, the world is falling, our country won't survive this apocalyptic disaster that's brewing in our infrastructure".

    The reason this crazy system works at all is that it's a distributed system. Failure in one section doesn't lead to failure in other sections. Just like most natural systems (think of the way a river flows, often in separate channels) our infrastructure adapts to problems as needed.

    It's interesting that people predict massive problems despite there never being any massive problems. For example, name a single infrastructure event that impacted the daily lives of every American. Katrina, which wiped out a big section of the country for several weeks didn't impact the Northeast, Northwest, etc. in the least (aside from non-stop news coverage). FAA flight control screw ups are probably the most significant failures and note that it's a centralized system.

    Government systems need to be operated as distributed systems, managed by many different people, because that is the primary security control protecting us from catastrophic failure. Government or contractor management has nothing to do with this, both options can do well, both can do poorly.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by lukas84 (912874)

      Good teams do good work no matter who they work for.

      I'm not that sure about this. I work for an IT contractor, and if you try to do a good job you'll run into a conflict of interest, sooner or later. Typical scenario is that the sales guys from your company want to sell the customer something he doesn't really need - and then you get asked about your opinion on whether he should buy it or not.

      a) Stab the customer in the back, telling him he really needs to buy this
      b) Stab your employer in the back, telling

      • Option b is the correct answer. Option b means that the next time your customer really does need something expensive, they will me more likely to let you sell it to them. Option b is not stabbing your company in the back, it's stabbing your sales guy in the back. Option b increases your customer's trust in your company, which improves your company's long-term relationship with the customer and increases the total amount that your company will get from that customer over the course of that relationship.

        • by lukas84 (912874)

          That's how you see it, that's how i see it, but it's not how the sales dept or our CEO for that matter will see it. I suspect it's pretty much the same for other companies.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by TheRaven64 (641858)

            That's exactly the point of the original poster in this thread:

            When employees incentives are not aligned with the company's goals, the goals suffer

            This holds whether the employee in question is the CEO, a system administrator, or a sales guy. The CEO's incentives are aligned with the current share price. That means that he will push for short-term profits at the expense of a longer-term future for the company. The sales guy's incentives are aligned with making a sale now, rather than building customer

          • by darrenkw (1085901)
            If that's not how the CEO sees it then he's the wrong person to be running the company. I'm currently employed by a smallish MSP and I know who would win out in our company. If the sales guy is trying to sell them something they don't need he's going to at least get told off. I would personally chose option b but as always, being a little careful how you say can make a world of difference.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kaboom13 (235759)

        I also work for an IT contractor, although fairly small so I can go smack the sales guys on the head a few doors over as needed. I go for option B/E all the time. In my view, IT is kind of like a a bottomless pit you throw money into. You can throw more and more, but there is ALWAYS something else you can do. There's always an extra backup system you can add, an extra redundancy, an user experience you can improve, etc. But businesses have finite IT budgets, and all the slick sales guys in the world wo

        • by pnutjam (523990)
          Besides, is helping some sleazebag salesman make an extra $1000 in commission (that he would not share with you even if he saw you laying half dead in the gutter) worth your professional ethics?

          Words to live by...
      • You need to be honest. IT contractors need the repeat business from their big clients, and that means they need trust. We want that client to come back for a bigger project, for more on-hand staff, for more hardware, for more support contracts.

        OTOH, if you see a valid sales opportunity (like something the client needs or can use without him even realizing it), you need to bring in your organization's salespeople. This means knowing your organization's product/services portfolio; otherwise you can't ever rec

    • by vadim_t (324782)

      It's interesting that people predict massive problems despite there never being any massive problems. For example, name a single infrastructure event that impacted the daily lives of every American.

      The Northeast Blackout of 2003 [wikipedia.org] probably comes close.

    • Some of the fault can be laid squarely at whoever wrote the original contract. One of the contracts in the UK that's currently just starting to make the press is notable because the consultants managing the process (why would you let a consultant manage the process?! Consultants *consult*, dummy! Not a dig at consultants, but the fool who handed over control of the entire process to a third party...) are being paid 10% of the procurement cost of the contract as a bonus.

      Yes, you read that right, they're effe

      • In Belgium architects fees work like that. If you're surprised that your house went over budget by just a tad, check out the carbon fibre closet liners and the monocrystalline copper water pipes.

    • There is (literally) no financial incentive to do a good job... Pointing the fingers at contractors is simply extraneous information. Good teams do good work no matter who they work for.

      Well there are issues of incentive that aren't immediately obvious, and who you work for does matter. If you work for the government directly, there's a sense in which your stated job is basically to make the government run better, whereas when you work for an outside contractor, your stated job is to make money for the contractor. That seeps into your head and affects the way you do things.

      I'm not saying that contractors can't be helpful or even that it can't be a better route to go, but it's not quite

  • ARIA [imdb.com] will soon be in control!
  • by wilby (141905) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @10:08AM (#30869728)

    The original poster wrote- "My opinion is this is a dangerous trend that needs to be reversed. We're being fleeced while being put at risk."

    The problem is government. Government and mismanagement have gone together for at least the last 50+ years. To think that government employees would perform better than contractors is pure fantasy.

    • by Changa_MC (827317)

      That's certainly true of USA government.

      Possibly linked to our last 4+ presidents being right-of-center, on a global-political scale.

      You won't have success, if you don't ever ask for it.

  • The other perspective is that we are handing off critical and complex systems to those more better able to handle them due to experience and training. Further, as any government employee will tell you, you can't rely on the politicians to understand why IT needs as much money as we do. They often fail to understand that if they want x, they need to pay y. By outsourcing the operation, the costs are better controlled ( something the bean counters love ), and interruption to the service is less likely.

    Not

  • Most enterprises just hire the cheapest possible labor and call the expensive guys/girls only when something breaks and the cheap labor can't fix it. If it works for them this way, and if it's cheaper just to declare bankruptcy on a system failure vs. doing it right in the first place, why would they change their ways?

  • That's pretty objectionable alright. When you sell something it is supposed to go to the high bidder.

  • Maintenance (Score:3, Informative)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @11:00AM (#30870024) Homepage
    All four examples from TFA have the common theme of one outsourced group does the development, and a different group does the maintenance, resulting in loss of institutional and system knowledge. This is a flaw in outsourcing approach. The solitication should be for development and system lifetime maintenance, with contractual penalties for failure to respond to or fix problems.
  • Sounds like the setup for Daemon [slashdot.org].

  • I AM.

    Now, give me mod points or Something Terrible will happen. Muahahaha.

  • Recently here in Wisconsin the contracted company that manages some of the Medicaid and other social programs printed out the Social Security numbers of all recipients of a large mailing on the OUTSIDE of the envelopes. OOPS!
  • Medicaid (Score:2, Interesting)

    by caramuru (600877)
    I can't speak to all of the poster's comments, but I can address the Medicaid point. I have worked for over 25 years for Medicaid contractors and have done so in 14 states, so I have a pretty good perspective on the pluses and minuses of outsourcing this service. Medicaid is usually the largest line item in a state's budget. Consequently, IT and other services required to run the program are not only expensive, but highly visible. Many state bureaucracies have concluded that they do not want to risk such e
  • I was involved in a large out-sourcing contract where a county government laid off it's entire IT staff and hired a team of contractors to support and maintain systems. The majority of staff moved to winning bidder. The key issues with this contract where the short term focus on metrics like time to resolve a ticket. If rebooting a system led to ticket resolution, that was that. If a system went down every three days and rebooting was the fix, well, that only brings up your average. Any sort of long te
  • Its the entire American IT structure. Many businesses also don't understand the ramifications and just bid out and take the lowest price attached to the best looking sales rep.

    Once they do get burnt, they bring it back in house.

    I don't know if its a misunderstanding of what role IT plays in their organization, or if its just the overall mentality of slashing all immediate costs ( I have seen both... )

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