Outdated IT contracting rules may have added to HealthCare.gov woes
A reform of US government IT procurement could lead to fewer failed projects, critics say
IDG News Service - Critics of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' botched deployment of HealthCare.gov can point to a series of management mistakes, but many observers point to a more systematic problem with government IT contracts.
The U.S. government IT procurement process is broken, critics say, giving agencies little flexibility to make changes in projects and little incentive to look beyond the lowest bids. In some cases, including Healthcare.gov, a long period of time elapses between the contract award and work starting.
The problem isn't new, with dozens of failed government IT projects in the rear-view mirror and several IT groups calling for reforms going back years. But the problems with HealthCare.gov have prompted renewed calls for IT contracting reform.
"The current process of managing and acquiring federal IT is largely broken and the failure of [HealthCare.gov] is simply the newest reminder of that dysfunction," Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, wrote in a November blog post.
The list of U.S. government IT project failures is a long one. Fixing the problem, however, won't be easy because there's far from universal agreement about the direction going forward.
One of the problems, according to many critics, is that U.S. agencies get locked into inflexible contracts, sometimes years before the actual work is done. In the case of HealthCare.gov, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services awarded the contract to Canada-based firm CGI Federal in late 2011.
While Web development hasn't changed significantly since 2011, developers may have been able to use some newer interfaces not named in the original contract, said Michael Hettinger, vice president of the Public Sector Innovation Group at the Software and Information Industry Association.
"The government's great at buying yesterday's technology today," he said, voicing a common criticism of government contracting.
In many cases, the contracts are too focused on what technologies should be deployed and not on what problem needs to be solved, added ITIF's Atkinson. "The process has become so bureaucratic, and the agencies have so little flexibility," he said in an interview.
Procurement officers are often most concerned with awarding the lowest-cost bids, and not on the vendor that could do the best job, critics said. Add in a lack of training for procurement officers and that's a recipe for problems, Atkinson said.
Procurement officers "may be good at buying pencils, but they're not always that good at buying complex IT systems," he added.
Procurement officers often make the decision about IT contracts, not agency CIOs, he added. Too many CIOs are "down in the boiler room of the operation, making sure the emails run on time," Atkinson said.
- Best iPhone, iPad Business Apps for 2014
- 14 Tech Conventions You Should Attend in 2014
- 10 Desktop Apps to Power Your Windows PC
- How to Add New Job Skills Without Going Back to School
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
If you use ‘password,’ one the worst passwords, as your password, fail to keep antivirus protection updated and don’t bother to deploy security patches to close critical vulnerabilities, then maybe you should consider working for the cybersecurity-clueless federal government; you’d fit right in, according to Senator Tom Coburn's cybersecurity and critical infrastructure report.
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Changing the Way Government Works: Four Technology Trends that Drive Down Costs and Increase Productivity
- This paper discusses four technology-based approaches to improving processes and increasing
productivity while driving down department and agency costs.
- Cybersecurity Imperatives Reinvent Your Network Security With Palo Alto Networks
- The Rise of CyberSecurity
- 10 Things Your Next Firewall Must do
- Next-Generation Firewalls Defined
- Firewall Buyers Guide
- Operate as the core of your network security infrastructure
- Getting Started With a Zero Trust Approach to Network Security
- The Traditional Approach to Network Security is Failing. View Now>> All Government IT White Papers
- Webinar: Building a Big Data solution that's production-ready Big data solutions are no longer just a nice-to-have.
- Meg Whitman presents Unlocking IT with Big Data During this Web Event you will hear Meg Whitman, President and CEO, HP discuss HAVEn - the #1 Big Data platform, as well...
- The New Way to Work Knowledge Vault This Knowledge Vault focuses on how, in today's increasingly virtual world, it's more important than ever to engage deeply with employees, suppliers, partners,...
- Getting Ready for BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10.2 Find out how BlackBerry® Enterprise Service 10 helps organizations address the full spectrum of EMM challenges, while balancing the needs of both the...
- Containerization Options: How to Choose the Best DLP Solution for Your Organization This webcast outlines a framework for making the right choice when it comes to containerization approaches, along with the pros and cons of...
- All Government IT Webcasts