Congress Embarks on Government IT Reform

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 26: Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., speaks with reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
Add to Briefcase
Clara Ritger
Nov. 18, 2013, 5:03 p.m.

In the wake of Health­Care.gov’s per­sist­ent troubles, the pres­id­ent and mem­bers of Con­gress from both parties voiced sup­port for gov­ern­ment in­form­a­tion tech­no­logy pro­cure­ment re­form.

“This is part of a pat­tern that oc­curs due to fail­ure to ad­here to the private sec­tor’s world-class stand­ards for IT pro­duc­tion,” said Rep. Dar­rell Issa, R-Cal­if., at a House Over­sight Com­mit­tee hear­ing last week.

Giv­en that the United States fed­er­al gov­er­ment one of the largest pur­chasers of IT, mak­ing the in­vest­ment worth­while ought to be a top con­cern of law­makers. In 2012, the U.S. spent ap­prox­im­ately $81 bil­lion on fed­er­al IT pro­jects, and Health­Care.gov alone re­ceived a $630 mil­lion al­loc­a­tion.

Earli­er this year Issa joined hands with Rep. Ger­ald Con­nolly, D-Va., to craft the Fed­er­al IT Ac­quis­i­tion Re­form Act (FIT­ARA), which passed the House over the sum­mer but awaits its day in the Sen­ate. Among oth­er pro­vi­sions, the bill grants chief in­form­a­tion of­ficers au­thor­ity over agency budgets and raises them to the level of pres­id­en­tial ap­pointee, height­en­ing their re­spons­ib­il­ity over large-scale IT pro­jects.

The Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment and its Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices faced a wave of cri­ti­cism for its mis­man­age­ment of the fed­er­al ex­change web­site. In a series of hear­ings with top HHS and CMS of­fi­cials, it be­came clear that func­tion­al­ity and se­cur­ity de­cisions that res­ul­ted in the site block­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of users from com­plet­ing ap­plic­a­tions for health in­sur­ance were made in the lower ranks and not com­mu­nic­ated at the top.

FIT­ARA could be the le­gis­la­tion to stop such prob­lems from hap­pen­ing again.

“If FIT­ARA had been law dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Health­Care.gov,” Con­nolly said in an email, “Pres­id­ent Obama would have been au­thor­ized to ap­point his own chief in­form­a­tion of­ficer at the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, and this in­di­vidu­al would have both served as Sec­ret­ary Se­beli­us’s primary ad­viser on IT man­age­ment, and been em­powered to re­cruit top IT tal­ent and man­age crit­ic­al IT in­vest­ments, such as Health­Care.gov.”

Des­pite the ad­ded prestige of pres­id­en­tial ap­point­ment, it will be hard for the gov­ern­ment to com­pete with private sec­tor salar­ies to at­tract top IT man­agers.

“When you rely on con­tract­ors — which is com­mon prac­tice in gov­ern­ment — you need to pos­sess the core cap­ab­il­ity with­in the agency to man­age them,” said Gwan­hoo Lee, an IT pro­fess­or at Amer­ic­an Uni­versity’s Ko­god School of Busi­ness. “I don’t know wheth­er bring­ing in private sec­tor man­agers would solve this prob­lem, but I can’t ima­gine that those man­agers — who would make hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars at places like Google and Face­book — that those in­di­vidu­als are will­ing to come to the pub­lic sec­tor.”

Con­nolly ac­know­ledged that FIT­ARA is only a start, and that the gov­ern­ment must do more to open up the con­tract­ing pro­cess to young­er com­pan­ies, thereby up­ping com­pet­i­tion and at­tract­ing a wider swath of tal­ent. Clay John­son, former pres­id­en­tial in­nov­a­tion fel­low and cur­rent CEO at The De­part­ment of Bet­ter Tech­no­logy — a firm that builds gov­ern­ment soft­ware — said one way to do that is to al­low smal­ler, more mod­u­lar pur­chas­ing, which would make it easi­er for smal­ler busi­nesses to com­pete for the con­tracts and re­duce the im­pact when pro­jects go sour.

“If a few fail, at least it’s a half mil­lion mis­take, rather than a half bil­lion,” John­son said.

With the spot­light on Health­Care.gov, John­son said he thinks more House Demo­crats will in­tro­duce gov­ern­ment IT re­form ini­ti­at­ives in the com­ing weeks.

“This is a mo­ment where both parties can agree,” he said.

The private sec­tor is jump­ing on board too. Amazon sent a let­ter of en­dorse­ment to the lead­ers of the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee, which is cur­rently re­view­ing FIT­ARA.

Wheth­er FIT­ARA will move through the Sen­ate is un­clear, but with more pro­pos­als on the ho­ri­zon — and the pres­id­ent’s call to ac­tion — the de­bate is far from over.

What We're Following See More »
ISIS INVOLVED
Niger Attack Possible Terrorist Set-Up
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"An emerging theory among U.S. military investigators is that the Army Special Forces soldiers ambushed in Niger were set up by terrorists, who were tipped off in advance about a meeting in a village sympathetic to local ISIS affiliates...The group of American Green Berets and support soldiers had requested a meeting with elders of a village that was seen as supportive of the Islamic State, and they attended the meeting at around 11 a.m. local time Oct. 4...Such meetings are a routine part of the Green Beret mission, but it wasn't clear whether this meeting was part of the unit's plan."

Source:
TRUMP’S COMMENTS AT ISSUE
Bergdahl’s Sentencing Delayed Until Wednesday
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The long-awaited sentencing of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was delayed Monday after a legal battle erupted over the word 'but' in President Donald Trump's most recent remarks about the case. Bergdahl's defense team argued that their client could not get a fair shake from the court because Trump, during a Rose Garden appearance on Oct. 16, at first said he couldn't talk about the case and then added: 'But I think people have heard my comments in the past.'" Trump has called him a traitor and suggested he should be executed.

Source:
PROBE CAME FROM INQUIRY INTO MANAFORT’S FINANCES
Mueller Investigating Tony Podesta and His Firm
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group are now the subjects of a federal investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News. The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller's inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort."

Source:
SCHEDULED FOR TUESDAY
House Intel Will Interview Trump Digital Director
21 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump’s campaign digital director, Brad Parscale, will be interviewed Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee, his first appearance before any of the panels examining the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Parscale confirmed his scheduled appearance. The Senate committees also probing interference haven’t scheduled time with Mr. Parscale, he said, declining to comment further."

Source:
CONGRESS MAY HAVE DIFFERENT IDEAS
Trump Promises No Changes to 401(k) Plan
21 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login