Will Healthcare.gov Be the Tipping Point for Federal IT Procurement Reform?

This post, written by Jonathan Messinger, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum

In the long list of hotly debated and provocative political issues this country faces at the moment, only the most clairvoyant of pundits could have predicted that—flanked by the debt ceiling and immigration reform—procurement would take center stage. But thanks to the problematic launch of healthcare.gov, it’s suddenly the talk of the town. You would need a pile of paper equal in length to the FAR to contain all of the ink spilled on federal IT procurement in recent days, and it’s now reached the point where Obama said yesterday that fixing IT procurement is a priority.

All of this is for the good. Nearly all procurement reform requires some sort of trigger. It may be difficult to remember, but procurement reform was actually one of Obama’s earliest initiatives. In March 2009, the newly inaugurated POTUS announced procurement reforms based on a GAO report that found 95 defense projects that amounted to cost overruns of $295 billion.

Enormous cost overruns and failed programs have led our neighbors to the North to look at overhauling defense procurement. A program to buy army trucks that began in 2004 won’t be completed until 2017. Perhaps the most notorious procurement scandal that led to reform happened in 2007 in Slovakia. The Slovakian Ministry of Development put out a nearly €120 million tender for construction services, but only posted it on a bulletin board within the ministry building.

“Generally, there needs to be an instigating incident, typically involving pretty major corruption scandals before comprehensive procurement reform can happen,” said Alexander Furnas, research fellow at the Sunlight Foundation. “Generally it’s highway projects that never get done, and are redone every few years years, very visible public works projects.”

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