Governance and Accountability in Technology Spending

Ars Technica report on West Virginia overspending on Cisco routers while fascinating  misplaces much of  its blame on Cisco for selling unnecessary equipment to the state. It is misplaced because the state government of West Virginia failed to properly assess its needs for the technology.

While the state auditor states “Cisco representatives showed a wanton indifference to the interests of the public in recommending using $24 million of public funds to purchase 1,164 Cisco model 3945 branch routers,” where is the statement that the employees of the State of West Virginia showed both incompetence and negligence in its governance of the project and accountability in spending?

State and federal employees are often placed into positions for which they do not have competence. They are often held to a single metric of an agreed upon standard of what makes a competent bureaucrat rather than rewarding the competence needed in the field of governance. For this reason, state and federal employees who are placed in management positions end up spending much greater sums of public money on hiring contractors to the actual work.

In the Cisco example, certainly Cisco as hired to assess needs, should be held somewhat accountable. The overkill of technology, as one responder indicated, does show the technology works and that savings for the equipment over years to come will be realized over a ten year period (whereas a different choice may require additional upgrade and maintenance costs in the same period); was a 10 year lifespan of the technology a part of the specification? Certainly life cycle costs are a part of any technology decision.

What Cisco has demonstrated is that its a company that wants to make a profit on a government contract. The motivations of corporations are clear. What is unclear is how those involved in this project in the State of West Virginia will be held accountable.

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