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Members Introduce Bipartisan Federal IT Procurement Reform Bill

July 30th, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A bipartisan group of Members today proposed sweeping reforms to how the federal government purchases IT goods and services. The Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology (RFP-IT) Act, introduced by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Ranking Member of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Chairman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce, and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Energy Subcommittee, and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) incorporates significant stakeholder feedback from draft legislation that was circulated earlier this year.

Most significantly, the RFP-IT Act lowers barriers to entry to allow small, innovative businesses to compete for federal contracts, and would create a new, high-level office in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to guide federal IT policy and review high-priority IT projects.

“The launch of healthcare.gov had many troubling aspects to it. It also opened the flood gates of concerns and comments from small companies and entrepreneurs in my district who have important technologies, yet cannot compete in the federal procurement process because it is too complicated, too slow, and often simply not worth the investment of time,” said Eshoo, whose congressional district is home to Silicon Valley. “The federal government should be seeking out the best value for the taxpayer dollar, not the company that can best navigate thousands of pages of procurement regulations.”

“Our bill will also increase accountability by creating a new White House office focused on guiding high-priority and high-risk IT projects. 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. In an $80 billion sector of our federal budget, this is an unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars,” Eshoo concluded.

“Recent years have taught us that in the 21st century, effective governance is inextricably linked with how well government utilizes technology to serve its citizens,” said Connolly, who is also co-author of complementary bipartisan legislation to modernize the seminal Clinger Cohen Act of 1996. “Incremental improvements in federal IT management have been completely eclipsed by large-scale federal IT disasters that waste taxpayers’ dollars and jeopardize our nation’s ability to carry out fundamental constitutional responsibilities, from conducting a census to securing our borders to caring for our dedicated veterans in a timely manner.”

“The bipartisan RFP-IT Act recognizes that transforming federal IT procurement requires enhancing competition, attracting innovative new vendors, and strengthening accountability. By promoting the use of simplified acquisition procedures, the RFP-IT Act will shorten procurement lead times and level the playing field for start-ups and small businesses – a critical factor in a technology sector that is characterized by the constant influx of new entrants and rapidly evolving products and services,” Connolly concluded.

“Information technology advances should make it easier for government to function more effectively and cost-effectively in the 21st century,” Hanna said. “But in order to realize this potential, we need to update the old-fashioned way agencies purchase IT goods and services. The RFP-IT Act helps small businesses provide their cutting-edge digital solutions to the government. By including more small businesses in the federal IT marketplace, we can increase competition, cut costs for taxpayers, help agencies more competently carry out their missions and ultimately create new good-paying high-tech jobs in the private sector.”

“The federal government’s 20th century procurement process leaves out too many 21st century companies,” said Swalwell. “We must enable innovative tech companies, like those located in my East Bay congressional district, to compete for federal IT projects. I thank Congresswoman Eshoo for introducing this is commonsense legislation that will do just that, granting businesses federal contracts based on their ideas and expertise and not their understanding of the current cumbersome procurement process.”

“We need a 21st century approach to reform the way the Federal government manages information technology projects, which is why I am pleased to join with my colleagues in introducing this legislation today to help make sure that taxpayers receive the highest return on federal investments in information technology,” said DelBene.

Background

Federal procurement reform has been on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) high-risk list in some form since the early 1990s. The federal government spends $80 billion annually on IT alone, and the estimated cost to taxpayers of failed IT projects is as high as $20 billion annually. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Social Security Administration has spent nearly $300 million since 2008 on an IT modernization project with no measurable results.

The Federal government’s procurement regulations (called the Federal Acquisition Regulation or FAR) are 1,900 pages long, with each agency having a “supplement” that can be an additional 1,000 pages. This rewards incumbent companies familiar with the rules, not smaller, up-and-coming innovators.

The Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology Act

After incorporating stakeholder comments, Administration-led initiatives, and bipartisan compromises, the revised RFP-IT Act:

  1. Enhances competition for federal IT contracts by expanding the number of contracts that use a simplified process which makes it easier for small and innovative companies to bid. This will shorten lead times on contracts, lower administrative costs, and produce a broader pool of bidders for federal IT contracts.
  2. Promotes innovation in the federal government by codifying the successful Presidential Innovation Fellows program, by improving the quality of solicitations issued for IT procurements, and by adding the Small Business Administrator to the FAR Council, which sets federal procurement policy.
  3. Strengthens accountability by establishing a new, high-level Digital Government Office to coordinate Federal IT policy and to partner with agencies to address high-priority or failing IT projects.

A copy of the bill text can be found here and a summary of the bill here.

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