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United States Government IT Technology

Who's Controlling Our Vital Information Systems? 116

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

    by amcdiarmid ( 856796 ) <{amcdiarm} {at} {}> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @10:35AM (#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.

  • Maintenance (Score:3, Informative)

    by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:00PM (#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.
  • by some-old-geek ( 1329305 ) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:05PM (#30870044)
    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 application. Project is completed, contractors go off to their next project in another organization. Then there's no one to maintain the thing. Also remember it was built by people who knew they wouldn't have to maintain it, so it might be crap. It might also be wonderful because taking pride in your work isn't a trait that's confined to permanent staff. I've seen both, but more often the former.

    Having state staff build the system means they know they have to maintain it. Usually that results in better quality, but not always. Again, I've seen both, more often than not the staff create something maintainable (if not elegant) because they have to live with the consequences.

    [Cue a whole bunch of twits with variations on "but that doesn't make sense" because they think bureaucracies are supposed to make sense.]
  • Re:Even dumber (Score:3, Informative)

    by raddan ( 519638 ) * on Saturday January 23, 2010 @01:27PM (#30870670)

    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 []. Eisenhower was keenly aware of and attempted to avoid the problems of a large and influential military-industrial complex, and yet, he is largely responsible for getting it off the ground. In the end, pressure from both the American people and his own military forced his hand.

  • by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:29PM (#30872684)

    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 150Billion!!)

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer