Why FITARA is Not the Comprehensive Answer to Healthcare.gov Some Are Claiming It to Be

A.R.

There has been a lot of debate in the media recently about who or what is to blame for the Healthcare.gov failure. The saying “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” comes to mind. Practically everyone in government and the private sector with a role in Healthcare.gov has been under the media’s microscope.  The media’s finger-pointing aside, the fact is that no one individual or office is responsible for this disaster. Without a doubt, a fundamental but only recently discussed reason for the Healthcare.gov failure is the overly complex and inefficient federal information technology (IT) procurement system that the U.S. government employs today.

I’m not the first person to make this claim, and I certainly won’t be the last. In fact, many in industry and government are offering solutions to prevent future federal IT program disasters.  For example, Richard Spires delivered testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee suggesting the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) could be a possible fix. Clay Johnson, in his #lettoddwork campaign (referencing US Chief Information Officer Todd Park), and Washington Post columnist, Ezra Klein, also singled out FITARA.

Suggestions to reform the acquisition process are certainly timely in light of Healthcare.gov and draw appropriate attention toward solutions. There are a number of provisions in FITARA that would be helpful for federal agencies that rely on IT and also have the support of industry.  For example, the bill would enhance authorities for federal Chief Information Officers (CIOs); establish multiyear revolving funds for IT investments; optimize federal data centers; and strengthen the federal IT acquisition workforce. 

However, there are other provisions in FITARA that require further discussion in order to ensure that we bring real efficiencies to the federal acquisition process and avoid the unintended consequence of new complexity on top of existing complexity.  For example, more discussions are needed on the proposed Assisted Acquisition Centers of Excellence and the Federal Infrastructure and Common Application Collaboration Center.  While these ideas are well-intended, it is essential that these and other proposed reforms address the shortcomings in existing contracting mechanisms that contributed to the Healthcare.gov mess. 

It is also important that any new federal entities created as part of acquisition reform do not tax existing governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) and multiple award contracts (MACs) without providing any additional accountability for the use of those funds.  It is also essential to ensure we know how Congress plans to pay for the federal workforce training and new automation tools for acquisition personnel that these monies normally fund.  Without that clarification, we risk robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Both taxpayers and government contractors deserve effective acquisition reform, and one approach worth considering is akin to the review from 1993 by the Section 800 Panel, which crafted transformative legislative proposals for government acquisition. Such a wholesale review process can be used again to identify solutions to the systemic problems engrained in the process and its workforce today.

It is encouraging to see greater recognition that the Healthcare.gov challenges actually stem from symptoms of a diseased acquisition reform system. There are several provisions in FITARA that represent important first steps for acquisition reform, but a more extensive and innovative review of acquisition processes is needed if we are to make the overall acquisition process more effective and efficient, while preventing future IT project debacles.

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5 comments
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  • Advenged Sun., December 22, 9:35 AM
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  • Lacky Thu., December 19, 1:12 PM
    Priorities that I know the American people want from their cainddate and what he/she are going to do about it:1. What are you going to do about climate change.2. When are we going to get rid of oil and start using alternative fuels like biodeisel, hidrogen, ethenol, solar, wind, electric (and I mean tesla electric pattents held by Westinghouse)3. When will we leave Iraq?4. Will you stand behind stem cell, not pfizer?5. Take action against illegal aliens breaking the law, and giving our boarders the right to protect our soveriegnty.6. Protect the "American people's" interest 7. Get rid of the Patriot Act which, does not protect the people's right to be free by spying on them8. Admit when you are wrong before the press chews you up, because the more intelligent Americans that understand the mainstream press are puppets and propaga peddlers, but your average Americans believe what the news tells them, even if it does have an opinion, which it should'nt.9. Use Youtube to campaign and get ideas, because this is the best link you will have with your people, and special interest groups only want what is best for them and their wallets. If you are such a cainddate your people will help you get to where you can help them make a difference.10. This is what I tell my own children. If it feels wrong, it is wrong. Use your best uncorrupted judgement. Don't be afraid to tell the truth even in the face of adversity. Becoming the president of the United states of America carries with it a heavy burden, but if you have the people behind you to pool ideas and come up with solutions, we can not fail, "Country before self". All great empires have fallen due to greed. We can not let this happen. "Duty, honor, integrity, and loyalty". These should be foremost in your mind when charged with taking care of the Amerian people.
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