This post, written by Raj Sharma, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum.
The other big news story in Washington these days—fighting for attention with the government shutdown—is the struggles of the new healthcare.gov, the Affordable Care Act’s online health care exchanges. Both NPR and the Washington Post have published stories laying at least part of the blame on federal procurement, and the blogStratoServe has also offered its two cents on the procurement issues.
Far be it from us to argue against these points. We launched Public Spend Forum precisely because of these problems in public sector procurement, and we’ll have more to say about how to address these specific IT issues in the coming days. But it’s worth noting that, while the procurement process is certainly a major problem—particularly in massive programs like the ACA’s implementation—the issues are a direct result of how little attention leadership in government pays to a function that doles out more than $500 billion a year in the federal government, and more than $1.9 trillion across the U.S. The fact is that there is a lot of lip service paid by leadership to procurement, but it lacks any real meat in terms of meaningful involvement, or support in terms of resources. So the inevitable result is a system that is mired in regulations and bureaucratic processes that work against the very goals of a transparent, competitive procurement system that ensures the efficacy of taxpayer dollars.
The healthcare.gov issues are yet another example of how we need to elevate procurement in the federal government. There are others, like the Mexican border security initiative: it’s estimated that in ten years, the federal government spent $90 billion with decidedly mixed results. That’s due largely to a lack of strategic vision and planning. Or consider the FBI virtual case file system, that was abandoned before it was even launched, and cost taxpayers $170 million.
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