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December 19, 2007


The Department of Education has the third-largest appropriation of all federal agencies, but that doesn’t mean it’s awash in cash.  The agency has a relatively small staff of 4,000, and every dollar saved on administrative costs goes toward student loans.  CIO Bill Vajda (pronounced VI-da) came on board last July with a plan to pinch a few more pennies from the budget:  by turning over responsibility for the entire IT operation—equipment and all—to contractor Perot Systems.

Bill has been appointed by OMB to serve on the Executive Committee of the Federal CIO Council (where he’s co-chair of the Best Practices Committee).  Prior to joining the DoEd, Bill was acting CIO and Associate Director for ITIS at the National Security Agency.  Apparently, they trained him well in secrecy—Bill said he couldn’t tell us what ITIS stood for . . . or even what his hobbies are.  We learned this much:  He resides at an undisclosed location somewhere in Maryland.

Bill made the decision to take the DoEd from a GoCo model (government owned, contractor operated) to a CoCo model (contractor owned and operated) last September.  Other government entities—like the Commonwealth of Virginia, HUD, and the NSA—also have chosen to go the CoCo route.  Perot Systems won the DoEd contract, advertised as being worth $600 million, under which it took ownership of all the agency’s computers, servers, and other equipment.  (Even Bill’s phone has a “Property of Perot Systems” sticker on it.)  Responsibility for keeping the hardware up to date is now “somebody else’s problem,” Bill told us with a smile.

Bill gathered staffers Ken Moore, Elaine Goheen, and Lynn Harding for this pic.  They’re all employees of the DoEd, but half the people on their floor are from Perot.  During our visit, construction was underway on a portion of the floor that will be walled off so that DoEd employees will be able to talk about certain matters (like the contracting process) out of earshot of anyone from Perot. 

Bill says that giving Perot responsibility for ownership makes sense because a private contractor can be more nimble in acquiring equipment and, for instance, centralizing its servers, than the federal government.  The DoEd contract makes Perot responsible for complying with federal law in the execution of its duties, and also gives incentives for improvements in performance.  Bill says that the switch has resulted in “significant savings” for the DoEd, and a vastly reduced acquisition-related workload for his staff.   

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