Connolly, Eshoo float new Digital Government Office for critical IT projects

Rep. Gerald Connolly

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), pictured above, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) are circulating draft language for the Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology Act.

In the wake of the flawed launch of, two prominent House Democrats are teaming up on a proposal that would route the development of high-profile government websites through a new White House IT office. That office would have in-house tech talent and be led by a federal chief technology officer newly empowered to regulate major IT procurement.

Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) released a discussion draft of their Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology (RFP-IT) Act. It is designed to work alongside, not supplant, previous reform proposals such as the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, which Connolly co-sponsored with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

FITARA, which came close to becoming law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, is expected to move through the House as a stand-alone bill.

Full Text

Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology Act: Discussion Draft

The Eshoo-Connolly bill would authorize the creation of a Digital Government Office and give it oversight responsibility for major IT projects before they are launched. The office would be led by a CTO with the power to hire top talent from the private sector and tap the resources of the Presidential Innovation Fellows. That position would differ from the one currently held by Todd Park in that the new CTO would lead his or her own office and have the power to regulate IT procurement. Park's job is linked to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and he serves as an evangelist and coordinator for open-data policy and other technology initiatives.

In addition, the bill would raise the dollar value of contracts eligible for bidding via a streamlined process from $150,000 to $500,000 in an effort to get more small businesses involved in government IT contracting.

Eshoo said the bill "gives all American innovators a fair shake at competing for valuable federal IT contracts by lowering the burden of entry."

"Studies show that 94 percent of major government IT projects between 2003 and 2012 came in over budget, behind schedule or failed completely," she wrote in an email statement. "In an $80 billion sector of our federal government's budget, this is an absolutely unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars."

Connolly said that "despite incremental improvements in federal IT management over the years, the bottom line is that large-scale federal IT program failures continue to waste taxpayers' dollars, while jeopardizing our nation's ability to carry out fundamental constitutional responsibilities, from conducting a census to securing our borders."

The bill proposes paying for the new office with surplus General Services Administration fees.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Sun, Feb 9, 2014 Mme. Cretwa

Feb 6 comment--by someone who is a Fed IT employee--just wants the regs to be thinned out. In other words, s/he wants less oversight of contractors. S/he also claims Feds have the skills to do IT, but have been turned into report-writers. The sad facts are: Fed skills in IT, which were tops--3 to 4 decades ago--but are not suitable today because they are outdated. Further, Feds just don't hustle and could never put up with the hours that contractors put in. Further, contractors Do Need Oversight, because they tend to go off on excursions, and, to the extent there are ex-Feds among them, the productivity might be lite. You know what I mean. The key to the whole thing is reducing the number of poorly conceived and funded Fed IT systems. Just like DoD weapons systems, many of them are not needed and are condemned to fail. Save the customers, save taxpayers' money: fewer contracts, fewer contractors, fewer Feds, fewer Fed pensions. Make sense?

Thu, Feb 6, 2014

The bottom line is that the majority of the problems in Federal IT start and end with Congress. A lot of us (not all) are highly skilled, know what we are doing, and if allowed, would be doing outstanding work. Contracting and Human Resources rules are killing us. We have 100 oversight people for every 5 actual IT Professionals. What does oversight do? They create paperwork and processes to "ensure quality and compliance". It doesn't make us good, but it makes us look good. Highly skilled IT people end up being report writers and paper pushers. (Not by choice). We're expected to make everything look good, even when we know we're not being good. We can't get back to our core competency of actually building and testing good systems. The vast majority of Fed IT staff love what we do, would love to work in an organization like Google or Amazon, and put out cutting edge technology. But most of us would just settle for making our IT customers happy. We want to be proud of our work and we want people to use and be helped by it. We like our fellow workers, we believe in the mission and we don't want to give up. We're not. It doesn't matter if you have Federal staff or Contractors developing IT systems for the Government. They will almost always be bad. If not bad, they will be way over budget and very late. Not because of the front line people or even most leadership. It is because of the ridiculous rules and parameters we have to work in. I have an idea, go to Google, ask them to be constrained by the rules we have to follow, then ask them how it would impact them. Tell them they can't hire who they want, can't use the software they want, have multiple different groups developing pieces of a system but they can't do Integration Engineering because it's out of scope, then tell them that for every action they do, they need at least 8 signatures. Oh, then have their best people doing only reports, presentations and responding to Congressional and OMB data calls. We'd be going back to Hotbot as our search engine. Don't create another oversight office layer, just get rid of the stupid contracting and HR rules that are crippling IT innovations and agility.

Tue, Feb 4, 2014 Madame Cretwa Washington

The White House staff, though its incompetence and meddling and inability to effectively oversee the depts. and agencies is responsible for many Fubar's besides the ACA website. They just don't blow up so spectacularly. The last thing we need is an added institutional way to help the meddle some more, instead of skillful, deft oversight and direction (only when needed). Best thing would be to can the entire WH staff. And it looks like, with this gaffe, that Cong. Connolly is due to step aside for someone who understands Federal contracting. He should be ashamed

Sun, Feb 2, 2014 Guy Timberlake Columbia, MD

IT Reform aside, the aspect of this I want to see get through is the increase of the Simplified Acquisition Threshold to $500K (from $150K). Additionally, I want to urge Eshoo and Connelly to also apply the small business reservation to Simplified Acquisition buys when the Commercial Item Exception is applied, raising the threshold to $6.5M per action. Guy Timberlake, The American Small Business Coalition

Tue, Jan 28, 2014

Oh great. More politcal involvement in IT management. It worked so well for And where's the OMB egov office ? Are they still in business?

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