Notes From the Field

Notes From the Field

by / August 31, 1996
Bad Blood
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

Midlothian, Va.


"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 base for promoting this type of effort as well.

Jim Madigan

Public Health Spec. III

Division of Environmental Protection


Partners for Pittsburgh?
I read your article in the July 1996 issue of Government Technology and want to know a lot more about the Midnight Hackers project. I've already called the folks at Midnight Shakespeare, and they gave me a little more info. They also referred me to Joel Robinson at the city of San Francisco, with whom I'll also follow up.

We would like to adapt this type of project to Pittsburgh. I think we have many of the same types of elements that could make it work here. The city of Pittsburgh government is a major investor in technology projects with connections to community and neighborhood groups. You may want to take a look at our local Hill Community Access Network (HillCAN) project for more info, a large consortium effort that's paying off handsomely.

Can you direct me to the business principals in the Midnight Hackers effort? I'd like to talk with them about how they got involved, and find out if they have any suggestions for how we should make overtures to the Pittsburgh area technology business community. I realize that our being "government" may be provocative sometimes, and would also appreciate any advice you or the partners in the Midnight Hackers effort might have for softening the chilling impact (real or imagined) that we have occasionally on non-public sector audiences.

Dave Farley

Grants and Development Officer

Office of the Mayor Pittsburgh, Pa.


Crossing the Divide
Just to let you know that I enjoyed your article in Government Technology magazine ["Crossing the Great Divide," by Rita Kidd, July]. It was well done, and thought- provoking. However, now that you have framed the issue ... the answers are??

P.K. Agarwal

CIO, California Franchise Tax Board


Defining the Customer
I just read your article in Government Technology ["Reengineering Must Define the Customer" by Rita Kidd, June] on defining the customer in government agencies and couldn't agree more. It is one of those terms that is generally felt to be either already understood or irrelevant. For many, "customer" is defined as "people who ask us to do things," therefore whatever we do is automatically "customer-oriented." It is often used to defend the status quo. I hope you don't mind if I pass the article around and refer to it in our discussions here.

Grady McNett

Application Programmer/Analyst IV

Utah State Tax Commission