Federal IT Procurement Reform Proposed

Lawmakers suggest adding Digital Government Office that would oversee IT acquisitions and prevent troubled projects such as HealthCare.gov.

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

January 29, 2014

3 Min Read
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). (Photo courtesy of MeriTalk).

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Newly proposed legislation would expand the role of the US chief information officer and create a new office to guide the development and procurement of critical IT systems across the government. 

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., introduced draft legislation, released on Jan. 27, which would establish within the Federal CTO's office a US Digital Government Office responsible for regulating IT procurement. The new office, made up of in-house tech talent, would be tasked with reviewing major IT projects before they begin, and guarding against them getting off track. The office would have the authority to hire staff.

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer, headed by US CTO Todd Park, currently reports to the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  A White House spokesperson said they were reviewing the draft bill.

The two Democrats cited problems with HealthCare.gov as an example of what happens when agencies try to manage IT projects on their own without "industry-leading managers and programmers." Only about a third of the 3.7 million Americans who tried to register the first week after the marketplace launched on Oct. 1 were successful.

[Enterprise requirements keep changing. So must acquisition strategies. Read 4 Ways To Improve Federal Software Procurement.]

The scale and complexity of the system required much more extensive testing, which didn't happen prior to the launch. In an effort to move beyond the slipups, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) dismissed HealthCare.gov's lead contractor, CGI Federal, and instead hired Accenture Federal Services earlier this month.

The bill, dubbed Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology Act, or RFP-IT Act, would also increase opportunities for small businesses to compete for federal IT contracts, lifting the contract bidding process threshold from $150,000 to $500,000.

"Thousands of pages of procurement regulations discourage small innovative businesses from even attempting to navigate the rules … Our draft bill gives all American innovators a fair shake at competing for valuable federal IT contracts by lowering the burden of entry," Eshoo said in a written statement.

Eshoo, a ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, alluded to a study, which found that 94% of major government IT projects between 2003 and 2012 came in over budget, fell behind schedule, or failed completely. "In an $80 billion sector of our federal government's budget, this is an absolutely unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars," she said.

Obama administration officials argue that efforts to reform federal IT management, through the administration's "Cloud First" initiative and PortfolioStat IT investment review process have already saved billions of dollars and improved the way agencies acquire and manage commodity hardware and software. They also point to efforts, such as the President's Open Data initiatives, that are making government data more transparent and accessible, and meeting with experts to capitalize on IT innovations.

Connolly is a ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee that manages federal IT and procurement policy. He and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) tried to enact acquisition reforms last year with a bill known as the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (HR 1232), introduced in March of 2013, but the bill has failed to get legislative traction.

In a release on Eshoo's site introducing the draft legislation, Connolly said that transforming how the federal government procures critical IT assets will require reinforcing ongoing efforts to strengthen general federal IT management practices, starting from the White House and moving downward.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.

About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

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