THE QUESTION NO ONE ASKS ABOUT SUSTAINABLE IT – WHO PAYS?
GSA announced recently that they are incorporating a host of sustainable IT provisions into their major technology contracts. Everything from reducing climate change to the use of alternate energy sources to power federal IT systems is on the table. It’s good to want to protect the environment, but no one seems to be asking the critical question of “who pays?”. Will federal agencies be the ones that will pay extra for IT solutions that have a variety of sustainable features baked in? Policy makers cannot assume that the answer to this question is “yes” when looking at historical evidence. Agencies are traditionally slow to adopt new technologies, especially when they come with new costs. An additional fact now is that several federal agency budgets are anticipated to be tighter this year (see article above). Even in more “normal” times we’ve previously written about federal IT executives who have an “I just got a bargain” approach to IT acquisition. Similarly, topics like sustainability that get discussed in a vacuum can often lead to policies that create a host of unintended consequences. Ask Californians, for example, how well their alternate energy sources work for them in the summer and then consider whether it’s in the country’s best interest to have critical intelligence and other sensitive IT systems powered by them. Contractors run the risk of getting caught in the middle. GSA requires potentially expensive sustainability features. Customers either don’t want or can’t afford to have them. Open market acquisition ensues, driving up lead times and potentially costs. Providing sustainable IT solutions is a good goal. It must be properly evaluated and compared, though, to the other federal IT goals. All perceived “goods” are not created equally and its important to get this right in order for federal IT systems to operate properly in a time of heightened international tension. The ultimate answer is, of course, that the taxpayers pay, but you already knew that.