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Incoming: No More 8-Tracks

February 2, 2011
By H. Mosher

This month, Capt. Joseph A. Grace Jr., USN (Ret.) likens the state of government technology to that of an 8-track tape player in an iPod world, thanks to a bloated procurement process:

In the early 1970s, the music industry was transformed by the arrival of a practical solution to mobile music-the 8-track player. The world embraced this technology, which infected car stereos, home entertainment systems, portable players and lifestyles. While transformational, this technology soon was replaced by the cassette, followed by CDs and audio DVDs until Apple came out with the iPod-another game-changing technology. The market has created many forms of iPod docking stations for cars, clock radios, entertainment systems, airplane seats, pillows and every possible application. Uses include photos, FM radio, podcasts, videoconferencing and Wi-Fi. This technology is significantly smaller, faster, more comprehensive, more capable and inherently more user-friendly than its 8-track progenitor. The same lessons from this progression can be applied to command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) and government information technology.

Unfortunately, long budget and acquisition cycles, poor funding strategies and feed-the-beast mentality abound. Combine this with constantly changing leadership, burdensome safeguards, oversight, overhead, multiple audits, reviews and just overwhelming red tape, and it becomes almost impossible to deliver cutting-edge, agile technology development within government acquisition rules. Users exploit this technology every day in their outside lives but struggle to bring a similar capability into government-which still is stuck with the equivalent of 8-track technology.

Capt. Grace offers his own suggestions in this month's Incoming column, "Time for Government to Dump Its 8-Tracks," noting that while the 8-track player is "now DIACAP-certified, ruggedized, encrypted and able to be thrown out of the car window at 60 miles per hour unharmed," it's still obsolete. And the only way to correct that deficiency, he says, is to improve the acquisition process:

A good starting point would be to shorten the cycle for agile procurement; and remove overhead, processes, delay and the huge personnel costs supporting these processes. Shorter, less-costly sales cycles for the vendor community could reduce costs significantly. We need to stop funding older systems that in M.B.A.-speak represent a "sunk cost." Good acquisition decisions take courage, intelligence and a full understanding of requirements, the technology at hand and underlying need.

So if that's what *what* we need to do, how do we do it? What else is missing that holds government back, technology-wise?

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