Federal CIO Seeks 'Storefront' For Government IT Procurement

The goal is to have a central place to allow federal agencies to quickly buy systems and get them up and running.
Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, a champion of procurement reform since his days as CTO of Washington, D.C., has lofty aims to overhaul to the federal IT procurement system, including the eventual creation of a "storefront" to allow federal agencies to quickly buy systems and get them up and running.

"Every 18 months you're going to have major, transformational changes when it comes to information technology," he said in an interview last week. "Unfortunately, if you look at the processes, if it takes 18 months to 2 years to go through a procurement cycle, you've already missed one revolution."

In no way will procurement be an easy problem to solve, as Kundra openly admitted. It will take the support of policy-makers, CIOs, procurement officers, the federal cybersecurity community and the General Services Administration, which Kundra sees as becoming a "center of gravity" for government IT. "This is going to take time," he said. "It's going to take major changes when it comes to public policy and procurement and so forth."

For example, take security. Currently, led by requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), federal agencies need to carry out the certification and accreditation processes for a technology that they plan to deploy, regardless of whether another agency just finished up those processes with the same technology last week.

"Imagine how much money we could save for taxpayers if we were able to have a central place where you could get certification and inherit those rights, those most restrictive ones," Kundra said. However, that might take changes to FISMA or regulations that spawned from it.

As part of the system-wide procurement overhaul, Kundra would like to see the GSA to be that central location, and eventually to move at least its IT procurement processes away from the idea of having schedules and toward what he calls a "storefront" model where agencies who want to procure IT products and services could do so with the same ease of a consumer. That will require GSA to first launch a "common platform" to handle things like FISMA certification and trivial procurement tasks ahead of time.

"If we can abstract for agencies the procurement processes, security, architecture, provisioning and they're more focused on leveraging the service that's being provided rather than rolling out technology initiatives across the board, that's where we want to move the federal government toward," Kundra said in an interview at his office last week.

It's clear that much of Kundra's thinking around IT procurement changes are born out of his interest in cloud computing, and though he didn't go into deep detail about his "storefront" idea, he likens its goals to some of the benefits of cloud computing and software as a service.

"From an agency perspective, the goal here is to try to make it as simple as, if you in your personal life wanted to sign up for, whether it's an e-mail or photo-sharing platform or if you wanted to get storage online, literally from the time you want that storage to the time you submit your credit card, the service will be provisioned real-time, right away," he said.

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