I very much enjoyed your article, "Government Tries New Procurement Methods," in the recent supplement to Government Technology magazine [June Emerging Technologies Handbook article by Brian Miller]. I particularly liked your comment pertaining to "paper and desks." For 20 years, the Commonwealth of Virginia vested IT professionals with the responsibility for procurement and contracting of IT products and services, for the very reason you stated. The split of IT procurement from the organization responsible for purchasing of more routine items (the Department of General Services, or DGS) created a lot of bad blood on the part of DGS's purchasing division, because Virginia very wisely realized that people with far greater knowledge of technology than normally is required of "buyers," required the hiring and retention of IT pros at salaries significantly higher than those paid the buyers.
I am intimately familiar with the operations of the IT procurement and contracting unit, having headed it up from 1979 until 1996. At one point during my tenure, I made the heinous error of suggesting in public that purchasing of IT products and services required a special set of skills and knowledge not possessed by those buying "pencils and desks." This, of course, made me anathema forever to DGS management and staff.
Your article lays it right on the line. Unfortunately, for reasons known only to the Almighty and the powers that be in Virginia government, responsibility for IT purchasing was transferred July 1, 1995 from the IT professionals to DGS without providing that agency the types of positions and attendant salaries needed to deal with highly technical and complex IT acquisitions. Not to imply that all that has been done by DGS necessarily is bad. A lot of what they've done is beneficial. However, their lack of understanding of even basic IT concepts and terminology is going to hurt the Commonwealth in the long run. Some examples:
1. When asked to attend a meeting at one of Virginia's largest and most highly visible agencies to kick off a "$24M procurement," the senior buyer assigned to the project questioned the requesting agency as to why there was so much interest in a "$24 thousand purchase."
2. When asked by a vendor if rates for contract programming services included G&A fees, the senior buyer assigned asked, "What's G&A?"
3. When offered the opportunity to substitute a hard disk unit with a 10ms access time for the 14ms unit on term contract, a high-ranking official within the purchasing division determined that 14 was bigger than 10 and therefore had to be better, and by golly the vendor wasn't going to hoodwink the state.
These are but three of the many incidents which have confirmed my suspicions that Virginia is not well served by the transfer of responsibilities. In a time when other states and private industry are placing increased responsibility for IT acquisitions on IT professionals, Virginia is going, kicking and screaming, into the 19th century.
Thomas L. Goodbody
"In the Same Thought"
After reading the article entitled "Midnight Hackers in San Francisco" [by Michelle Gamble-Risley, July] I decided to write and thank you for your efforts and also to get a feel for what it took to get this program off the ground. I live in the Capital District Area of New York State, (Albany, Schenectady, Troy) and presently direct computer operations at the Center For Environmental Health, New York State Department of Health. I would have to admit that although I am exposed to a great deal of technology, and also see some very rough conditions for inner-city youth, I have never really put these things in the same thought. As you may know, Mapinfo Corp. is located in Troy, N.Y., as well as Rensselaer Polytechic Institute, so we have a pretty good