July 30, 2014
by Sean Lyngaas, Federal Computer Week

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill July 30 that would restructure federal IT procurement by, among other things, establishing a pilot program in the Office of Management and Budget to review select projects for cost overruns.

The bill would replace the Office of Electronic Government with the U.S. Digital Government Office, headed by a “strengthened” federal chief information officer, a bill summary said.

The bill is sponsored by Silicon Valley Democrat Anna Eshoo, and cosponsored by Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). It is dubbed the Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology Act.

“A recent study found that 94 percent of major government IT projects between 2003 and 2012 came in over budget, behind schedule, or failed completely,” Eshoo said in a statement. “In an $80 billion sector of our federal budget, this is an unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars.”

She said the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov called for shaking up the procurement system.

The bill’s pilot program would last three years and cover at least one project from each of five agencies: OMB, the departments of Homeland Security and Veteran Affairs, the General Services Administration and the Small Business Administration.

A draft of the bill released in January would have given the Digital Government Office broader scope to review projects, but “a lot of the vendors were concerned that that would just sort of gum up the process even further, having stuff go to the White House to just sort of enter a black hole, never to return,” said a congressional aide familiar with the legislation. The new version starts with a narrower pilot program.

The bill is a welcome effort to improve communication between government and IT vendors throughout the acquisition process, said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of public sector at the Information Technology Industry Council.

“Once those small businesses see the daunting red tape and the mountain of government-unique requirements they have to face to do business in the federal government, most of them, we find, shy away,” he said in an interview. “And so there are some attempts [in the bill] to try to change that dynamic.”

But the bill does not address industry concerns about stringent statutory requirements that give agencies the technical rights to commercial IT products and services, Hodgkins said. Leaving that unaddressed means it is “unclear if [the bill] is enough of an incentive to now entice” previously skittish firms to bid for federal contracts.

The measure would also:

  • Raise the simplified acquisition threshold to $500,000 for information technology services provided by certain small technology firms.
  • Codify the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.
  • Require GSA to provide Congress with recommendations on how to streamline IT Schedule 70.