OMB's Orszag says government inefficiency due to old computers; yet agencies spent $46 billion on "computers" in 2009 

Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag told a group of business leaders today that the federal government is inefficient because its employees have more advanced computers at home than they do at their offices.

“Twenty years ago, people who came to work in the federal government had better technology at work than at home,” Orszag said. “Now that’s no longer the case."

You can probably guess what Orszag said next:

“It’s time to bring government into the 21st century,” Orszag told the group. “Information technology has the power to transform how government works and revolutionize the ease, convenience and effectiveness by which it serves the American people."

Orzag's speech was reported by The Hill.

Having spent the last 30 years either working in government or covering it as a journalist, I was, frankly, dumbfounded by Orszag's statement. Here's why:

Go to USASpending.gov and click on the "Spending" tab, then from the drop-down menu that appears, click on "Contracts." Then in the search box, enter the word "Computer" with or without the quotation marks.

The first time I entered it without the quotation marks and got back a list of 447 companies having the word "Computer" in their names and that have contracts to sell to the federal government in 2009. Total value of those contracts is more than $46 billion.

That's right, $46 B-I-L-L-I-O-N. So, if OMB Director Orszag is right, Uncle Sam spent $46 billion with computer companies last year but couldn't drag itself into the 21st century of office technology?

That's not an indictment of the equipment or the technology being bought, it's an indictment of the elected officials, their appointed staff members, and career bureaucrats who are doing the buying.

But wait, it gets worse. In 2008, the spending total was nearly $62 billion going to 560 computer companies. The year before that, the total was nearly $91 billion and all those tax dollars went to 632 computer companies. Are we detecting a pattern here yet?

Uncle Sam spends billions upon billions of tax dollars year in and year out with computer companies, but Orszag claims the government's office computers are obsolete.

Let me hasten to point out that not all of those contracts went only to buy laptops. Lots of printers, software packages, specialized programming, maintenance and repairs, IT system design and integration services, and ink cartridges are covered by those contracts.

But that just drives home the point: Either Orszag is lying or a fool, or we need a whole bunch of new people buying this stuff for government who actually know what they are doing.

One more thing: Less than a third, 30 percent, of the contracts were competitively bid in 2009, while 38 percent were awarded non-competitively for allowable reasons. Could the fact the government is awarding billions of dollars in sole source contracts have anything to do with the situation Orszag claims exists?      

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Mark Tapscott

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