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FCW : November 30, 2013
Procurement 22 November 30, 2013 FCW.COM Integrating state-of-the-art tech- nology with legacy systems is a fact of life in federal IT. However, David Cutler, a former health care adviser to Obama, voiced concerns a few years ago that the IT staff and systems at the Centers for Medicare and Medic- aid Services were not up to the task of building HealthCare.gov. In a 2010 memo to Larry Summers, who was the top White House economic advis- er at the time, Cutler wrote that "IT services [at CMS] are antiquated" and a restructuring of the IT department would be required to implement the health care law. But it does not appear that legacy systems alone are the problem. The component of HealthCare.gov that required the most interaction with other systems performed the best. The data hub was designed to tap into sys- tems at DHS, the Defense Department, the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Depart- ment of Veterans Affairs and others so the site could determine an appli- cant s eligibility for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The hub func- tioned smoothly during the launch of HealthCare.gov until a failure at cloud provider Verizon Terremark bumped it of ine for a few days in late October. The data hub was the most exten- sively tested component of HealthCare. gov, with functional trials going back to October 2012, according to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. In addition to testing, predesign decisions and planning are essential to successfully integrating legacy systems, said Jay Shah, executive vice president of Octo Consulting Group. One key, he said, is not to rush the procurement process. Budget pressures are forcing agencies with legacy systems to "think incrementally and not transformation- Next steps Although there is considerable dis- agreement among acquisition of - cials, contractors and lawmakers about how to go about overhauling the procurement system --- or even whether an overhaul is necessary --- some consensus exists on steps that could be taken in the short term to make the process run more smoothly: • Do a better job of de ning desired outcomes upfront. • Improve the training options for the federal acquisition workforce to put them on an even footing with vendors. • Give agency CIOs more budget authority. • Avoid lowest price, technically acceptable contracts on large, innovation-heavy projects. • Use agile development strategi- cally and mainly when a project does not require a lot of interaction with legacy systems. ally" when it comes to implementing new systems, he added, but agile devel- opment is not a silver bullet. "While most government agencies love the idea of agile, the [federal] pro- curement process and capital planning [are] counter to what agile espouses," Shah said. Congress will have to get involved if there are going to be large-scale changes to the federal IT procurement process. The House-approved FITARA puts more emphasis on workforce training and assigns more account- ability to agency CIOs, but in the wake of HealthCare.gov s dif culties, some lawmakers are looking for ways to go further. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who represents a swath of Silicon Valley, wants to make the system more open and accessible. "My sense is that there are inside-the-Beltway contractors that know the current system very, very well, and they are the ones that are awarded the contracts," she said. Eshoo was among the more aggres- sive members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who questioned executives from CGI Federal and QSSI in an Oct. 24 hearing about Health- Care.gov s problems, and she was not pleased with the answers she got. "I think the major contractors failed us," she said, adding that she plans to look for partners in both political par- ties who will help her press for con- tracting reform. ■ "My sense is that there are inside-the-Beltway contractors that know the current system very, very well, and they are the ones that are awarded the contracts." Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.)
November 15, 2013