The Bush 41 Administration’s IT Legacy

Former President George H.W. Bush

Former President George H.W. Bush Matt Sayles/AP File Photo

Much of today’s IT procurement landscape is the result of reforms from when the late President George H.W. Bush was in the White House.

As information technologies—computers, networks, email and the like—began permeating society in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, then-President George H.W. Bush’s administration was dealing with many of the same problems agencies are dealing with today. His administration also set in place the IT policy and procurement frameworks by which the government still operates.

As the nation mourns the loss of the 41st president, former White House officials and Hill staffers noted IT is an often-overlooked part of the first President Bush’s legacy.

During Bush 41’s term, ARPANET, the first computer network—designed by Defense Department engineers—turned 20 years old and Tim Berners-Lee released the framework for the World Wide Web. Inside the federal government, agencies were building networks and integrating computers with the mission, though not always successfully.

In the White House and on the Hill, officials were seeing the emergence of tech issues the government continues to struggle with today, namely large programs prone to failure, convoluted procurement needs and an industry reticent to work with government.

On the Hill, Mark Forman, a staffer on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who would later become the first administrator of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of E-Government and IT under George W. Bush, remembers talk of IT “horror stories,” such as large Defense Department weapons systems that didn’t work properly or the Federal Aviation Administration’s efforts to modernize its systems—issues that continue to plague both agencies today.

During all of this, the technological advances made by the Defense Department were being put to the test in the First Gulf War.

“People saw the success of some things but not others,” said Forman, who currently serves as global leader of public sector at Unisys. “Everyone wanted to know: How do we catch up to the speed of technology advancement in the commercial world?”

In order to bring more technology into government, the administration had to focus on its procurement challenges. At the time, few tech companies wanted to work with the federal government, said Al Burman, who served as the head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy under President Ronald Reagan and then Bush 41.                           

“In the late 1980s, early 1990s, the federal government with its prescriptive and how-to procurement processes was having all kinds of difficulty in bringing big IT companies and their innovations into the federal marketplace,” Burman told Nextgov. “Each of these companies had its own methods for doing business and they weren’t about to let the government tell them how to do their jobs.”

The procurement officials at OFPP worked with their colleagues on the Hill to develop a performance-based acquisition policy that instructed agencies to outline the results they were looking for, rather than a set of specific technical requirements.

“By adopting this practice, agencies could encourage different IT firms to bid, with each offering its unique technical approach to doing the work,” explained Burman, who currently serves as president of government consulting firm Jefferson Solutions. “I signed this performance-based services contracting policy letter in April 1991 and PBA has been supported by the Congress and followed on a bipartisan basis since it was put into effect.”

These measures, among others, led to the creation of the Multiple Awards Schedule at the General Services Administration. Among the schedules created was IT Schedule 70, the main IT procurement vehicle governmentwide to this day.

At that time, GSA also renamed the Federal Telecommunications Service the Federal Technology Service, which would later become part of the Federal Acquisition Service, Forman noted.

“That wouldn’t have happened without the Bush administration’s procurement and government affairs people at GSA really pushing these concepts to simplify commercial acquisition using these catalog concepts,” he said. “Nowadays, we take it as second nature. But back then, it was pretty revolutionary.”

All of this work also led to a focus on shared services organizations, Burman said, like the Defense Information Systems Agency—known as the Defense Communications Agency until a name change during Bush 41’s term—and Defense Finance and Accounting Service, established in 1991.

Forman agreed.

“I think it’s also important to look at the back-office shared services functions that were consolidated almost entirely because of the IT issues,” he said, also citing DISA and DFAS as examples. “These are longstanding [agencies]. The need hasn’t gone away and they continue to evolve.”

While technology continues to advance, it is the non-technical problems that continue to hamper government progress. But the frameworks developed during the first Bush presidency have survived, and are often cited as the things that do work in the federal IT procurement world.

“I think that’s a strong legacy: laying the foundation for government’s use of IT that persists to today,” Forman said.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.