The HealthCare.gov controversy has given the government IT community a chance to analyze some of its biggest challenges. Procurement is one issue that has been lambasted in recent weeks, but is it really the problem? Like most enterprise IT processes, procurement is not perfect. But that isn’t the entire reason this debacle.
IT procurement is not broken, but the process needs to be modernized. To say that procurement is entirely dysfunctional is analogous to saying that a computer is broken because it takes too long to stream videos, when, in fact, the problem is the use of a dial-up connection.
The federal acquisition system — a broader and more accurate term for how the government gets from requirement to contract — provides an effective and lawful channel for the government to purchase products and services in a (relatively) expedient manner.
The problem is not the acquisition system itself — it’s a necessary element of a complex process — but the myriad steps that bridge the initial RFP to the products and solutions. Here are a few of the issues that need to be addressed in order for procurement to be more efficient:
- The lack of communication between the program offices, the contracting office and the industry.
- Special interests and third parties that impact funding decisions and a Congress that hasn’t passed a budget. How well would your startup run if your venture capitalist promised you money on October 1 but didn’t get around to actually mailing a check until February?
- Political games that prohibit necessary progress.
- A failed learning and development culture in government that focuses too much attention on structured, certification-based training and not enough on actual learning and application of skills.
Procurement is not broken. The best way to move forward is to open government, publicize the requests of special interests, sign a timely budget bill and invest in training programs that make a real impact on the government’s bottom line.