Defining Government

Get ready for Government Inc. It's coming a lot sooner than you think. That's the gist of a memo sent out last month by Dan Porter, the Navy's chief information officer.

The memo allows Navy organizations to hire contractors to conduct certain portions of w"defensive information operations." That means civilian programmers working for companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and GTE Corp. can help protect the U.S. Department of Defense's information systems from cyberattacks launched by nation states and terrorists.

The job of defending the nation's information infrastructure, the policy states, is now "non-inherently governmental." That's quite an information warfare policy leap. When did defensive maneuvers become non-inherently governmental?

Certainly, outsourcing information security work is a reality. Civilians staff the information operations group for the command that covers the central and southern Americas and the Caribbean. Porter makes a distinction that offensive attacks launched by the United States against an enemy nation's information systems remain inherently governmental and, therefore, will be carried out by uniformed personnel. That's a fine line to draw, and even harder to stick to.

But Porter, like other military and civilian CIOs, is facing an impossible task: competing with fat compensation packages offered by the private sector for information technology talent, combined with the mass retirement of federal technologists expected in the next five years. If agencies want to continue to meet their obligations, outsourcing what has been thought to be inherently governmental IT jobs is a must.

That's why agencies need to begin to work through all the policy implications of hiring contractors to do inherently governmental work. The Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act, which requires agencies to develop a list of functions they perform that are not considered inherently governmental, is a start.

But more needs to be done, such as thinking through what the consequences are of hiring private firms to do this work. How we define and manage government will certainly change. As the Navy may soon find out, coming up with answers may be more difficult than you think.

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