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FCW : January 2014
Commentary | ALAN BALUTIS The botched HealthCare.gov rollout has put a spotlight on how the federal government manages IT and carries out procurement. In a Nov. 14 speech, President Barack Obama called government IT procurement a systemic prob- lem. And Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), co-sponsor of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, said the recent mishaps with what many call Obamacare have elevated the House-passed bill "from relative obscurity to prominence in the halls of Congress." But what evidence exists that the rocky launch was caused by IT mishaps or acquisition failures? Proper medical treatment requires an informed and correct diagnosis, and government reform needs the same in order to be effective. So let me suggest a different systemic problem requiring a different cura- tive regime: the government's need for improved program management. Several years ago, a group of cur- rent and former government execu- tives came together to produce several white papers to address this matter. Let me draw from the cap- stone paper to outline my argument. Concerned that unsuccessful pro- grams continue to waste billions of dollars while still failing to deliver needed services, we voluntarily assembled to discuss the reasons for program failure and the neces- sary actions to ensure success. The focus of our discussions and studies was on building a program manage- ment capability that can deliver the government's mission in the form of outcomes and results. The three basic challenges are: • Structure and policies. Agen- cies need organizational and cul- tural structures to enable policies and best management practices that consistently deliver results. • Skills and capacity. Agencies need to cultivate and maintain expertise, competencies, skills, and capacity to sustain a repeatable execution framework for delivering results. • Change management. Agen- cies need to develop and execute change management to transform current agency business environ- ments into cultures of results. The group made the following recommendations: Governance: • Establish an overall governance structure to manage and oversee large programs. • Establish a consistent process for delegating authorities. • Develop consistent requirements for program management plans. Alignment and oversight: • Use strategic planning processes to align goals and objectives. • Establish common dashboards and metrics. • Establish knowledge repositories and mechanisms for effective use. • Establish business process syn- chronization to test regimens and deployment decisions. • Establish critical success factors for program managers. • Tie alignment activities, objec- tives and goals to an organization's strategic plan. Career valuation: • Develop a communication plan advocating program management as a valued career path. • Establish a departmental program management council to advise the deputy secretary and other of cials, share best practices and review submitted program management plans. Managing transformation: • Deploy an organizational transfor- mation strategy and plan. • Use organizational change man- agement and project management disciplines to implement a strategy and plan. • Build change capability and capacity within the organization. Would these program manage- ment practices have spared Health- Care.gov its disastrous debut? We'll never know for sure, but such steps would certainly have helped to ag the trouble spots much sooner. ■ A different diagnosis for HealthCare.gov Alan Balutis argues that program management, not procurement, was the real problem --- and he has suggestions for how to x it What evidence exists that the rocky launch of HealthCare.gov was caused by IT mishaps or acquisition failures? ALAN BALUTIS is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Consulting Group. 10 January 2014 FCW.COM