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There is general agreement that the federal government is in the information age. Computers have been used for many years to gather, process, synthesize, report and disseminate information. It was and still is believed that through automation, processes, workers, and organizations would operate more effectively and efficiently. This paradigm reflects the belief that an investment in information technology is expected to yield considerable return.
Consequently, the general public cannot understand why it takes weeks, instead of days, to process an income tax refund or months to determine eligibility for social security disability benefits. Thus, the reality in the marketplace is quite different from the possibilities.
Last November, Senator William Cohen released a report, "Computer Chaos: Billions Wasted Buying Federal Computer Systems," that focused attention on the magnitude of the problem in the federal workplace and also serves to assist us in understanding the scope of the situation. Despite huge expenditures, over $200 billion over the last 12 years, it is unclear what the public has received for its money.
Efforts across the federal government to improve mission performance and reduce costs are still too often limited by the lack of information or the poor use of information technology. Before the federal government plunges into the information superhighway, it needs to shift its paradigm of how it makes investments in information technology.
When we manage the cost of technology, we are also managing the processes the technology supports. When we buy a fax machine for our home, we understand how we intend to use the equipment, what process that equipment will replace, and what costs will be incurred for the benefits achieved.
Yet when this simple cost benefit analysis (CBA) is applied to the acquisition of major computer systems, its relevance is significantly diminished. Why? Because at home we believe the comparison of cost against benefit produces a positive return on investment (ROI) or we would …