Kundra: IT procurement needs improving

The Obama administration plans to improve the processes the government uses to buy information technology systems, the top federal IT official said today.

Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra said administration officials are considering ways to transform the procurement process through improved access to information, better-defined requirements and more accountability. Kundra made the comments at a breakfast hosted by the Bethesda, Md., Chapter of AFCEA International.

“The current procurement process isn’t optimal for what the federal government needs, and this administration is committed to transforming that,” Kundra said. “We want to be able – from a central place in the federal government – to get input into the best ideas possible.

Kundra said the planned Data.gov Web site will enable the public and industry to access agency data and create new solutions the government can use. Democratizing agency data could help the government save money, he added.

In a brief interview after his remarks, Kundra said he is working with the General Services Administration to determine the causes of delays during the procurement process. He also said the administration recognizes that “a big part of the issues of federal IT have been, frankly, poor requirements from the federal government.”

“We’re not making the tough changes we need to. We’re not saying, ‘Hey, you awarded the contract — what happened? Why is it poorly written?’” Kundra said. “And…to be fair, we’re not holding the private sector accountable when things do go wrong.”

During his presentation, Kundra said it’s important for government and industry to ensure that requirements for systems are clear, and he called for a new mechanism to evaluate solutions. He also said the government’s process for writing requirements and proposals is overly complex.

"The federal government historically hasn’t done a good job of defining what those requirements are,” he said. “Then it engages in contracts, and because the needs haven’t been defined very well, you end up with 400-plus-change orders.”

In addition, Kundra said, even when the government buys commercial products, agencies often customize them to the extent that they are barely recognizable, which means that upgrades require a new product. Regardless of the type of technology, the government needs to get the best value for taxpayers.

“Those organizations that are going to stick to models that are embedded in charging the federal government without providing real value are going to become extinct,” Kundra said. “Those organizations that are going to provide the federal government with real value and move us forward and advance the taxpayers’ agenda are going to prosper.”

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