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 »
NEVER TRUMP
USA Today Weighs in on Presidential Race for First Time Ever
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."

Source:
COMMISSIONERS NEED TO DELIBERATE MORE
FCC Pushes Vote on Set-Top Boxes
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Federal regulators on Thursday delayed a vote on a proposal to reshape the television market by freeing consumers from cable box rentals, putting into doubt a plan that has pitted technology companies against cable television providers. ... The proposal will still be considered for a future vote. But Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., said commissioners needed more discussions."

Source:
UNTIL DEC. 9, ANYWAY
Obama Signs Bill to Fund Government
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
REDSKINS IMPLICATIONS
SCOTUS to Hear Case on Offensive Trademarks
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The Supreme Court is taking up a First Amendment clash over the government’s refusal to register offensive trademarks, a case that could affect the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. The justices agreed Thursday to hear a dispute involving an Asian-American rock band called the Slants, but they did not act on a separate request to hear the higher-profile Redskins case at the same time." Still, any precedent set by the case could have ramifications for the Washington football team.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Bannon Still Collecting Royalties from ‘Seinfeld’
9 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at a little-known intersection of politics and entertainment, in which Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon is still raking in residuals from Seinfeld. Here's the digest version: When Seinfeld was in its infancy, Ted Turner was in the process of acquiring its production company, Castle Rock, but he was under-capitalized. Bannon's fledgling media company put up the remaining funds, and he agreed to "participation rights" instead of a fee. "Seinfeld has reaped more than $3 billion in its post-network afterlife through syndication deals." Meanwhile, Bannon is "still cashing checks from Seinfeld, and observers say he has made nearly 25 times more off the Castle Rock deal than he had anticipated."

Source:
×