The Continuing Journey to Fully Effective IT Acquisition and Management

April 1, 2013
By Kent R. Schneider

Those of us who have been involved with government information technology (IT) for some time clearly remember the many efforts to improve IT acquisition. All certainly remember Vivek Kundra’s IT Management Reform Program, the 25-point plan. Most would agree that progress has been made, but some would argue—correctly I believe—that work remains to be done.

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), posted a draft federal IT acquisition reform act on its website last fall. As part of the review and revision process for this bill, the committee invited comments from a broad set of sources. It asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study progress and issues related to IT acquisition and management, and it also held several hearings. Testimony at the most recent hearing, held February 27, revealed progress and disappointments.

The GAO report, delivered to the House committee on January 22, argues that billions of dollars are being wasted in execution of the nearly $80 billion annual unclassified federal IT budget. Most of this waste comes either from unneeded duplication in federal programs, systems and infrastructure, or from failed or ineffective federal IT programs.

While many reasons may exist for the duplications and failures, lack of effective communication seems to be at the heart of the problems. Government managers are not talking to each other, which results in stovepipes along organizational or functional lines. Government and industry are not communicating effectively, resulting in suboptimum outcomes and, often, yesterday’s solution. Do you remember the “Myth Busting Campaign” that Dan Gordon set up when he was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy? That was all about separating the real obstacles to effective procurements from those imagined by the legal and other communities. The GAO report separates some of that fact from fiction.

In addition to the GAO report, the committee has taken testimony from a number of government IT managers, including chief information officers (CIOs), and from members of industry. Through this testimony, the committee has been seeking to learn what has worked in improving IT acquisition and management and what are perceived to be the obstacles to progress. The dialogue included an assessment of the status of the 1986 Clinger-Cohen Act implementation and whether government CIOs have the authorities they need to do their jobs well. Not surprisingly, CIO status got mixed reviews. Some consensus emerged that CIOs need enterprisewide range, better control over funding and more flexibility to implement IT best practices.

Committee testimony also addressed a wide variety of issues that would contribute to better IT acquisition and management. Some of these have been successful in certain agencies but need broader application. These issues include: rationalizing IT infrastructure; improving program management; enterprise and whole-of-government approaches; workforce development in acquisition and IT management; greater IT standardization across enterprises; reduction of duplication; skills retention; limiting impediments to innovation; increased use of strategic sourcing; better requirements definition and control; broader use of cloud services; and better differentiation between “commercial IT” and “commodity IT.” The testimony acknowledged that progress has been made in most of these areas, but it has been uneven.

The dialogue also included legislative factors that should be addressed to improve IT acquisition and management as well as to make government IT more cost-effective. In addition to improving the state of CIO authorities under the Clinger-Cohen Act, the most frequently mentioned factor was the effect of one-year money for much of the IT costs.

These are areas that would require legislation to change. It also is important to point out that these are not new issues. What is different is that some momentum seems to be building both in the administration and in Congress to bring about some real reform. That has been said a number of times, but now I am seeing much more energy put into this round of dialogue. Many discussions and initiatives are taking place within individual agencies and the military departments on specific aspects of improved acquisition and IT management.

AFCEA needs to be part of this dialogue. Whether you sit in government, industry or academia, you have contributions to make. Interact with your customers on this and, if you want to contribute but are not sure how to do that, please contact me and I will help you get engaged.

As always, thanks for all you do.


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