Obvious shopping tips for U.S. government

October 17, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

I seldom give shopping tips, but here is a piece of shrewd advice that might be handy for those of you thinking of buying a computer.

It might be your first computer or maybe you are moving up to a more recent model. In either case, this tip will prove invaluable.

Be sure the computer you plan to buy will do what you want it to do.

In other words, don't buy a computer that won't do what you want it to do. That's because if you buy a computer that won't do what you want it to do , the things you want it to do won't be done.

Then you will have wasted money.

So I will repeat what should be a hard rule for any computer buyer: Before spending your money, be sure the computer will do what you want it to do. Don't buy a computer that won't do what you want it to do.

I'm confident you are impressed by the wisdom and profundity of that statement. No need to thank me. That's why I'm here.

But what is that you are saying? That my advice is stupid because it is so obvious? That anyone but a complete idiot knows that when you buy a computer or anything else, you should be sure that it will do what you want it to do?

And you want to know why I am wasting your time and valuable newspaper space on advice that would be obvious to any tech-savvy 12-year-old?

My feelings are hurt. I really thought I was being helpful.

You see, I had just read a startling report on the computer purchases of the federal government.

I was dismayed to discover that the government has squandered billions of dollars on computers that don't do what the users want the computers to do.

One senator, William Cohen, of Maine, says that the government has been spending about $20 billion a year for the past 10 years.

That comes to about $200 billion, which is not exactly chump change, unless you pay taxes and consider yourself a chump, which some do.

Many of these computers are obsolete when they arrive. Or there are no spare parts, and the government has to look in junk piles when they break down. Or they wheeze and cough, or refuse to obey orders.

Sometimes they don't work because the people who bought the computers didn't bother to ask those who will use the computers what they want the computers to do.

That, of course, could lead us to another important shopping tip: Always know what you want a computer to do before you buy it. In other words, don't buy a computer unless you know what you want it to do.

Actually, that advice would apply to just about anything you buy, whether it is underwear, a power lawn mower or a $40,000 car.

And I'm sure that once again someone is asking why I am giving out more stupidly shallow advice.

But how am I to know that most people are that smart when our very own federal government doesn't follow these obvious guidelines?

Here we have a United States senator drafting a new law specifically requiring the government to know what a computer will do before it is purchased. And the law will also require the computer to actually do what it is supposed to do.

The law also would tell the people who buy computers for the government that if there is a computer on the shelf of a computer store that will do the job, they should buy it instead of asking a company to start from scratch to design a computer that will do what the store model will do.

I suppose that, too, seems obvious to many readers. Which is why most people buy their computers ready made, instead of hiring a team of engineers to spend millions of dollars to help them find Carmen Sandiego.

If someone had taken the trouble to tell government buyers to buy a computer that will do what it is supposed to do or to know what it should do before they bought it, a great cartoon-like light bulb would have gone on over their heads. And we would have saved many billions of our dollars.

I wonder if the senator has thought about a law requiring government employees to flush the toilet?

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