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Reps. Eshoo & Connolly Unveil Draft Federal IT Procurement Reform Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Two outspoken advocates for IT procurement reform, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, and Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Ranking Member of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee that oversees federal IT and procurement policy, unveiled draft legislation today to overhaul how the federal government develops mission-critical IT systems.

Eshoo and Connolly’s proposed legislation would create a new high-level office in the White House to review and guide major IT projects before they get off track, and instead lead to successful outcomes for taxpayers. The bill would also increase opportunities for small, innovative businesses to compete for federal IT contracts.

“Studies show 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 government’s budget, this is an absolutely unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Eshoo, whose congressional district is home to Silicon Valley. “Furthermore, thousands of pages of procurement regulations discourage small innovative businesses from even attempting to navigate the rules.”

“Our draft bill puts proven best practices to work by instituting a White House office of IT procurement and gives all American innovators a fair shake at competing for valuable federal IT contracts by lowering the burden of entry,” Eshoo concluded.

“In the 21st century, effective governance is inextricably linked with how well government leverages technology to serve its citizens,” said Connolly, who is also a co-author of complementary bipartisan legislation seeking to enhance the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. “Despite incremental improvements in federal IT management over the years, the bottom line is that large-scale federal IT program failures continue to waste taxpayers’ dollars, while jeopardizing our Nation’s ability to carry out fundamental constitutional responsibilities, from conducting a census to securing our borders.”

“Our RFP-IT discussion draft recognizes that transforming how the federal government procures critical IT assets will likely require bolstering ongoing efforts to comprehensively strengthen general federal IT management practices with targeted enhancements that promote innovative and bold procurement strategies from the White House on down,” Connolly said. 

Background  

Federal contract 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 just IT, with some industry experts estimating that as much as 70 percent of new federal IT acquisitions fail or fall behind schedule. The estimated cost to taxpayers of these failed IT projects is as high as $20 billion annually.

Federal procurement regulation (called the Federal Acquisition Regulation or FAR) is 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 (RFP-IT) Act

The RFP-IT Act, paid for by repurposing a surplus of fees collected by the Government Services Administration, would:

 1.      Create a new office within the Executive Office of the President to review major IT projects before they begin. Healthcare.gov failed because HHS/CMS tried to manage it on their own, and it was only fixed once the White House brought in industry-leading managers and programmers. This draft bill would create a new office of top IT talent to review all major IT projects and help agencies plan the contracting process.

2.       Enable more small businesses to bid on federal IT contracts without having to spend thousands on compliance costs by lifting the threshold for a streamlined contracting process from $150,000 to $500,000

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