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FCW : November 30, 2013
November 30, 2013 FCW.COM 17 By Mark Rockwell, Frank Konkel, Adam Mazmanian and Reid Davenport MORE IN THIS ISSUE Better contracting through multisourcing Consolidating IT infrastructure Tackling legacy systems MORE ON FCW.COM Past efforts at procurement reform, the role of GWACs, the outlook for FITARA and more. If, as U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel said, the launch of the HealthCare.gov site was a "teachable moment," it s only fair to ask: Is it a learnable moment? Can the tens of thousands of people involved in govern- ment procurement --- employees and contractors alike --- absorb any life lessons for navigating the often bumpy road of large government IT projects? Yes, say contractors, project managers and government watchdogs --- or at least "yes, but." High-pro le government procurement projects some- times take a wrong turn or crash spectacularly into tech- nological or logistical ditches. Sometimes they can be resurrected or salvaged, and sometimes they are scrapped. The smoldering remains can be attribut- ed to the myriad miscues, oversights or missteps in a hugely complex system. In other words, bungled launches didn t start with HealthCare.gov, and the Obama administration s Department of Health and Human Services is hardly alone in its stumbling. In 2006, the Depart- ment of Homeland Security picked Boeing to oversee its $1.9 billion program dubbed SBInet, which sought to revo- lutionize border security by inte- grating infrastructure, technology and border security agents. Unfortunately, it didn t work. After an initial deployment showed that the technology was far from integrated, DHS pulled the plug on the showcase program in 2011 and distributed the funds to more con- ventional border security programs. Other examples abound, but there is never a single reason for big projects to wash out, said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Proj- ect on Government Oversight. Complex federal procurement rules can contribute to the failure of advanced IT sys- tems such as HealthCare.gov or SBInet, but Amey contends that even a wholesale over- haul of those rules probably wouldn t help much. Others say spending cuts and budget uncertainty have sped up an erosion of the federal procurement workforce. Still others blame rules they say place a crippling emphasis on getting the lowest price at the expense of what might work best. Ultimately, said Roger Waldron, president of the Coali- tion for Government Procurement, successful federal con- tracts happen when the government understands what it wants and what it is asking of bidders, and bidders understand how to work with the government. It s not just about getting to yes --- it s about getting to yes, I know exactly what I want, and here s how I want you to give it to me. The people In federal procurement, getting what you want starts with people who know how to ask the right questions. A risk-averse workforce that is behind on training can drag down the entire enterprise. Unfortunately, training that keeps employees up-to-date on changing IT technology has been one of the rst victims of sequestration cuts, said Dan Gordon, former administrator of the Of ce of Federal Procurement Policy and now an associate dean at George Washington Univer- sity Law School. "The loss of training makes our people less current in under- standing how to run their procure- ments," Gordon said. "It makes them less current in their knowledge of the industries. It makes them less comfort- able in dealing with technological innova- tion. It damages the procurement system in many ways, which are unfortunately probably too subtle for the public to appreciate. But from the point of view of sophisticated interaction with vendors, it has real impact." The dearth of training shows itself in bloated contracts, the purchase of outdat- ed equipment and amateur negotiations with the private sector, Gordon said. If you don t know or understand the latest technology, you re going to get left behind. Without adequate training, "you can t run a fair-opportunity competition to award
November 15, 2013