The Hill

Issa turns again to IT reforms

Rep. Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa has resumed his efforts to improve federal IT investments.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has resumed his push to bring improvements to IT procurement into federal agencies -- an effort he started with a draft legislative proposal in 2012.

“We have a choice to make: adapt to the changing times, or waste more taxpayer dollars on obsolete and duplicative systems that don’t work,” Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in his opening remarks at a Jan. 22 hearing.  “It is time to bring the IT revolution to the federal government.”

The committee’s hearing examined the IT procurement process. It also restarted discussions on fine-tuning IT investment strategy and how agencies go about purchasing them. The committee heard from Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, former Rep. Tom Davis, who led the committee himself from 2003 to 2007, and David Powner, director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office.

Davis, who was the first to testify, pointed to an insufficient procurement process and acquisition workforce. He said the system’s objective should be geared toward getting the best deal.

“But it’s not,” he said. “It is focused on other objectives, such as promoting small businesses, disadvantaged demographic groups, or domestic sourcing,” he said. Such things may be laudable goals, but they come with a price, he said.

In addition, IT is a fast-changing field, yet federal procurement remains difficult to change even through years of efforts.  The procurement system lifecycle is too long to allow agencies to keep up with IT changes, Davis said, and the increasing number of bid protests prolong it even further.

For the acquisition workforce, “there is little room for innovation or creative thinking,” he said. “We do not reward achievement; rather, we punish mistakes.” Thus, he said, it’s not surprising that most employees working in acquisition prefer to go by the book rather than innovate.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, said the government needs to spend wisely on IT while not forgetting federal employees. Indeed, he said, the acquisition community needs the tools necessary to effectively oversee increasingly complex systems from beginning to end.

“These professionals ensure that the government is a smart consumer,” he said.

In light of all this, Issa and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a senior member of Issa’s committee, said the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 should be revamped to better serve the government’s technology acquisition needs. The time has come to revise the framework that dictates the acquisition process for federal IT.

In September 2012, Issa and Connolly released draft legislation called the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. It is intended to be introduced in the current Congress. The bill would grant more power to agency CIOs as they control the technology government acquires while also promoting strategic sourcing. It would also set up a corps of acquisition officials specializing in purchasing IT.

In the last decade, government spending on IT has increased from $46 billion in 2001 to approximately $81 billion in 2012. But much of the money is being spent unwisely, Issa said. “As is the case governmentwide, spending decisions are often not based on performance results,” he said.

He added program failures and cost overruns plague three-quarters of large federal IT programs. Moreover, federal managers say 47 percent of their budget goes to maintain obsolete and deficient IT resources. Estimates suggest that the government wastes as much as $20 billion each year.

“We’ve built an IT infrastructure that is bloated, inefficient, and actually makes it more difficult for the government to serve its citizens,” he said. “With more than $81 billion spent each year on federal information technology, are the American people getting what they paid for?”

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Reader comments

Wed, Jan 23, 2013 Frustrated by stupid and wasteful practices USA

At my office there is a computer sitting in its box in the storeroom. This computer was purchased for a specific program, and was a fairly high end box at the time of purchase. When we received this computer we were told to leave it in the box until the software was deployed. Unfortunately the software developers soon after were pulled from the project to work on another that had higher political visibility. Again we were told that this was just a temporary situation and that we should leave the computer in the box for now. This computer is now over 2 years old. Sadly it came with a 1 year warranty and the program purchased an additional 3 year extended warranty. There is still no return of the software developers in sight. There are also other projects that could really make good use of this box, but since the box belongs to a particular project we are not allowed to transfer it to any other use. This is not the first time I've seen brand new IT resources sit in storage for years waiting on software or an executive's approval for deployment. I cannot see any private company with a bottom line to worry about doing anything like this. If a resource is idle and someone has a good purpose to which it could be put, why not do it? I don't know if the issue is legal, as in moving things from one account to another may be a misappropriation, or if it is just empire builders unwilling to part with anything they have even when they have no use for it.

Wed, Jan 23, 2013 Peter

I have said this before, but again I think the big issue too is that there is way too much duplication in terms of IT purchasing programs. Why does every other agency think they need some program to provide systems/software bulk purchase agreements to offer to every other government agency? Frankly I think that Issa needs to get a clue and force centralization of all IT buying through GSA.

Wed, Jan 23, 2013 SPMayor Summit Point, WV

Tom Davis has touched on a very important point. Congress, the Administration and senior career leadership cannot continue to encourage innovation and better management of the acquisition process on one hand while also walking around with the whip and threat of punishment in the other hand. First, lets be honest enough to realize that some of the suppossed failures have been blown out of proportion and have resulted in legislative and regulatory requirements far out of proportion to the events. Second, we take for gospel reports issued by oversight functions that, in my personal experience as a procurement professional and manager, ignore relevant business considerations because the reviewer fails to realize they do have relevance to the individual delegated the authority to make a decision, not them. Third, if you want leadership then figure out how select leaders not inflated cookie cut-outs of regulatory drones. Fourth, understand that some of the current processes in place are achieving some of the desired goals more often than not - competing IDIQs and subsequently competing task orders does result in fair and reasonable prices. And fifth, quit expecting everything to be your way - understand that pricing data is not cost data; what industry collects and considers relevant information is not what the Government thinks it needs and that there is a cost to industry for assembling the desired information [which is not necessarily any more helpful to the Government than data more easily available]; and, the Government is a desirable customer but its not always the best, or most organized, or even the biggest in today's world - don't be so self-indulgent about your self-importance.

Wed, Jan 23, 2013 KD

There is waste and abuse because there is no one agency dedicated to auditing the DoD and its processes, reporting on the results, and taking corrective action/documenting it. Sign me up.

Wed, Jan 23, 2013

What if all CIOs and senior procurement executives do not have the business acumen and leadership skills of Roger Baker, the successful executive model at VA for making this approach work? Might government not end up with billions of sunk costs in new suboptimized fiefdoms? Where are the checks and balances to prevent this?

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