Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Preventing government IT disasters

We have had a few of these in Australia so should our legislators be following the lead of their US Congressional counterparts?
HealthCare.gov’s infamous failure to launch has inspired some fresh legislation that aims to organize and streamline the currently scattered — and expensive — approach to multimillion-dollar technology projects built by the government and its contractors.
Specifically, the measure, which is co-sponsored by Reps Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., calls for the creation a U.S. Digital Government Office, charged with reviewing and guiding major IT projects of all federal agencies. It also makes permanent the role of U.S. Chief Technology Officer, a position that has only existed in recent years under the Obama administration.
HealthCare.gov’s disastrous debut brought to light long-festering issues with how the government handles technology projects — contracting processes favor entrenched vendors who don’t deliver efficiently or effectively, tech talent that’s available inside government is lacking and there are hundreds of agencies running in several directions on services that duplicate efforts and resources…
A few notable provisions in the bill:
  1. The Digital Government Office would have authority over all agencies’ large IT projects. (Currently these are run by the individual agencies and not overseen by a tech-savvy office that knows what it’s doing/buying.)
  2. It gives the Chief Technology Officer the power to hire people outside of the standard government pay schedule, allowing government agencies to pay people at salaries competitive to jobs in the tech private sector.
  3. The bill also seeks to increase competition for contracting work, which is currently a field made up of the same handful of players who tend to get expensive and often unsuccessful results. Currently, agencies have to go through a rigorous process to buy the work/start contracts for technology projects that cost more than $150,000. Projects smaller than that are comparatively simple to hire for and more agile companies bid for those. So the bill increases “small acquisition thresholds” from $150,000 to $500,000 — making it easier for government to buy small technology projects.
This won’t be the final form the bill takes; it’s only a draft right now. Lawmakers released it to invite discussion, which will be happening in the coming weeks and months.
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