Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 16:09:06 -0400
From: klaatu 
Subject: DC's New Cronyism Wastes nearly $50 Millions on Y2K!
Newsgroups: dc.general,dc.politics,dc.org.linux-users

In two seemingly-unrelated articles in the _Washington Post_ of 28 August
1998, we see separate threads elaborated, which taken in conjunction indicate
not only the depth, but the wastefulness, of the New Cronyism in the
Government of the City of Washington, DC.

In a letter to the DCFRA Control Board, former Chief Technology Officer
Michael T. Hermon reports that, after his refusal to award a non-bid contract
worth 
$50 millions, he was fired by the Chief Management Officer's interim deputy. 

In the article at page C1 of today's _Post_, Hernon is reported as writing:

"My attempts to ensure a proper, legal and ethical procurement for a
multimillion-dollar contract were at odds with the wishes and direction of
[the CMO's] office and directly resulted in my being fired ... I have never
awarded a no-bid contract in my professional career and I wasn't going to
start with 
$50 million for EDS ... I hope this information is helpful to you in your
investigation of improper contracting practices."

CMO Camille Cates Barnett's interim deputy, Sheryl Dotson, has already come
under fire for a contract worth more than $800,000 which was cancelled by
outbound Control Board Chairman Andrew F. Brimmer. It was clearly a violation
of both city and Federal laws which state that contracts worth over $500,000
must be awarded only on the basis of open competitive bidding. Dotson, whose
Texas firm is a subcontractor to EDS, reportedly interfered with the GSA's
bidder-selection process. The GSA had been acting as the District's
procurement agent. Reportedly, after Hermon pressed for a resumption of
open-bidding, EDS, denied as sweetheart-deal, declined to bid in
competetition. In the end, the contract, for Year 2000 services for the
District, was awarded under appropriate and legal circumstances to IBM, Inc. 

The full-scope and detail of the contract awarded IBM for Year 2000 emergency
services was not detailed. 

It should be noted here that by appointing the GSA as the agent of the
District, bidders who were listed on the District's Bidders List, but not on
the GSA's bidding list, were excluded from consideration, denying many of the
region's small specialty firms the opportunity to provide their services.

We wish to note at this point that we ourselves had provided, direct to Mr.
Harmon's desk, a position paper and offer of services. Among other things, we
pointed out that the Linux Operating System is not only free software, but
also has absolutely no Year 2000 problems. Quite possibly most of the
operating system and software problems for which the City will pay millions
for a solution, could have been easily solved by a switch to Linux, at minimal
or no cost. Hardware upgrades, required in most (if not all) of the City's
intel-architecture PCs, could probably have been had for far less than half of
the contracted costs, had not the GSA been selected as the city's agent,
excluding most small local hardware and integration vendors. and leaving
procurements agents at the mercy of corporate monoliths with huge staffing
overheads and inflated GSA schedules.

Some might question whether Linux, running on "Y2K-ready" Intel-architecture
platforms could meet the needs of a variety of small-to-medium-sized
government agencies.

NASA seems to think so. In an article [1] on page A23 of today's _Post_,
there's a discussion of how very inexpensively NASA has been able to build a
supercomputer capable of searching out hackers and other intruders, by
analyzing files at a rate of 2.4 gigabytes per second. This supercomputer was
built from of-the-shelf components for $56,000, according to NASA Inspector
General Roberta L. Gross. In recent years, NASA, having undergone massive
downsizing and budget cuts, has learned how to get the most for their money.

The supercomputer is composed of a rack of 25 dual-Pentium Linux boxes (total,
50 processors). This isn't just _any_ Linux network, however, this is a
Beowulf cluster [2]. The specially-modified Linux software is freeware and is
available for download over the Internet [3]. Linux was developed at NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center's Center for Excellence in Space Data and
Information Sciences [4].

Beowulf Linux Clusters can provide mainframe performance at a slight fraction
of the cost of mainframes. For instance, sustained performance of 10.9
gigaflops was reported nine months ago, with 121 processors crunching an
n-body gravitational simulation [5]. This 121-processor cluster, if built
today, might cost about $90,000, a miniscule fraction of the cost of a
mainframe with similar speed.

NASA is quite pleased with the performance of Linux, as its standard
very-UNIX-like look-and-feel is familiar to the various scientists and
mathematicians whose experience on computers may have begun in the era of
monolithic mainframes. It also has the advantage of being totally free of
cost, with all source code published and available. As it comes complete with
a state-of-the-art C/C++ compiler, the vast Internet resources of code  -
available from universities, the government, and the military - can be readily
adapted for Linux, with little or no effort. Possibly the vast majority of new
freely-distributed code is written with the Linux Option in mind.
Increasingly, those who are sick of devoting over 60% of their computing costs
to software licenses are turning to Linux, which has the right price for
schools, universities, research facilities, and law-enforcement. [6]

We believe, and have repeatedly stated, that the District of Columbia must in
the future take into account the capabilities of Linux, and in particular must
take into consideration the cost-savings inherent in the Beowulf Linux Cluster
approach to mainframe computing needs. All parts are off-the-shelf and are
thus readily upgradeable as technology advances, the software is free and is
the de-facto standard "flavor" of UNIX, and from NASA*, no bidding will be
necessary as the price for mainframe power sufficient for almost any agency is
available for less than $60,000, and it ships 100-percent Y2K-ready.

If someone wants to take out their calculator and add up how many District
agencies could use this sort of mainframe power, I believe that they'll find
that it would cost considerably less than the $50 millions which would
reportedly have been charged by EDS, as alleged by the District's former Chief
Technology Officer. My calculator, assuming that 20 agencies need a
50-processor array costing $50,000, shows a cost to the city of a mere million
dollars, all in hardware costs. With the savings, they could hire top talent
to organize training for lesser talent and install/configure specialty
software, and the District would be 100-percent Y2K-compliant for their
central computing needs... possibly with enough money remaining to completely
replace all of their other Y2K-unready PCs.

It's your tax dollar. NASA Inspector General Gross is reported as calling the
Beowulf Linux Cluster "almost embarassingly" cheap. The Post notes that she
says the concept of an inexpensive supercomputer remains entirely outside of
the awareness of large departments which routinely budget millions, for what
can be had for tens-of-thousands, of dollars.


[1]
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1998-08/28/074l-082898-idx.html
[2] http://beoserv.hq.nasa.gov/about/index.html
[3] http://beoserv.hq.nasa.gov/linux/index.html  "Extreme Linux 5.0b"
[4] http://cesdis1.gsfc.nasa.gov/beowulf/
[5] http://beoserv.hq.nasa.gov/press/hpcwire_article-2.html
[6] http://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/CUTTING/lat_linux0824.htm

* Only the Beowulf Cluster enhancements are from NASA/CESDIS and assorted
other contributors. Linux itself originates with Linus Torvalds, with
literally thousands of other contributors to the applications base, under the
Free Software Foundation's GNU Project. 

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A Followup Article.