Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Restructure Federal IT Procurement

August 1, 2014 in News

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a bill (HR 5255) that aims to reconfigure the federal government’s IT procurement process after the problem-plagued rollout of the federally operated health insurance exchange, FCW reports.

Background

The bill — called the Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology Act — was developed by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) in response to HealthCare.gov’s troubled launch (Lyngaas, FCW, 7/30).

Technology analysts have attributed the federally operated health insurance exchange website’s glitches in part to the government’s tendency to buy outdated, costly and bug-ridden technology.

The U.S. government spends more than $80 billion annually on IT services, but the systems usually take years to build and experience rocky launches.

Analysts say the problem is exacerbated by a shortage of technical staff in government agencies, forcing them to outsource jobs to contractors that succeed in procurement but fail to stay on the “cutting edge” of creating user-friendly websites (iHealthBeat, 1/29).

Details of Bill

In an effort to strengthen communication between the government and IT vendors, the bill would:

  • Codify the Presidential Innovation Fellows program;
  • Establish the U.S. Digital Government Office, to replace the Office of Electronic Government (FCW, 7/30);
  • Make permanent the three-year-old position of U.S. Chief Technology Officer — which would oversee the new Digital Government Office — and give the CTO the authority to hire employees outside of the standard government pay schedule to compete with the private technology sector;
  • Promote competition among federal contractors by streamlining the bidding process and increasing contract values from $150,000 to $500,000 (iHealthBeat, 1/29); and
  • Require the General Services Administration to recommend to Congress ways to improve the IT Schedule 70.

Changes to the Bill

A draft version of the bill would have let the new Digital Government Office oversee or manage all major federal IT projects. However, a source familiar with the legislation said that “a lot of vendors were concerned that that would … gum up the process even further.” Instead, the DGO will begin with a narrower three-year pilot program.

Five government agencies will participate in the pilot:

  • GSA;
  • The Department of Homeland Security;
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • The Office of Management and Budget; and
  • The Small Business Administration (FCW, 7/30).

In addition, a center that would have advised agencies on IT procurements has been removed from the bill.

Senate Version Introduced

The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act — a bill similar to the House’s RFPITA — has been introduced to the Senate by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

The bill’s sponsors are confident it will be picked up by the full Senate and later reconciled with the House version (Carroll, NextGov, 7/30).

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