Outdated IT contracting rules may have added to HealthCare.gov woes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.
This state transportation department uses computer science students from a local university as programming interns, and everyone is happy with the arrangement -- until one intern learns how to bring down the mainframe.
- 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.
- Path Selection Infographic
- Path Selection Infographic
- Hyperconvergence Infographic
- A wide range of observers agree that data centers are now entering an era of "hyperconvergence" that will raise network traffic levels faster...
- Preparing Your Infrastructure for the Hyperconvergence Era
- From cloud computing and virtualization to mobility and unified communications, an array of innovative technologies is transforming today's data centers.
- How WAN Optimization Helps Enterprises Reduce Costs
- If you wanted to break down innovation into a tidy equation, it might go something like this: Technology + Connectivity = Productivity. Productivity... All Government IT White Papers
- Cloud Knowledge Vault Learn how your organization can benefit from the scalability, flexibility, and performance that the cloud offers through the short videos and other resources...
- LIVE EVENT: 5/7, The End of Data Protection As We Know It. Introducing a Next Generation Data Protection Architecture. Traditional backup is going away, but where does this leave end-users?
- On-demand webinar: "Mobility Mayhem: Balancing BYOD with Enterprise Security" Check out this on-demand webinar to hear Sophos senior security expert John Shier deep dive into how BYOD impacts your enterprise security strategy...
- Mobile Security: Containerizing Enterprise Data In this on-demand webinar, Fixmo's Lee Cocking, VP of corporate strategy, explains why Apple-ization trends like mobility and "bring-your-own-device" (BYOD) are driving the...
- Endpoint Data Management: Protecting the Perimeter of the Internet of Things Not surprisingly, "Internet of Things" (IoT) and Big Data present new challenges AND opportunities for enterprise IT. Teams need to harness, secure and...
- All Government IT Webcasts