This week a momentous event happened on Capitol Hill. The long-awaited Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT Act) passed the final legislative hurdle and made its way to the Oval Office for signature.
The MGT Act represents a rare moment of bipartisanship for the U.S. Congress with the bill being sponsored by a team of Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate. It was obvious to the bill’s primary advocates, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va), as well as the long list of co-sponsors that the federal government’s archaic IT infrastructure was not only bad for mission success, but also placing the country’s national security in jeopardy.
As Congress worked to shape the MGT Act there have been a long list of IT modernization conferences to help federal CIOs and other IT leaders shape their thoughts and share best practices. Jeff Kramer, Senior Director of Government Solutions at Reed Tech, attended a recent event and shared that “federal IT leaders are really getting to the heart of the problem; they know IT modernization isn’t just about buying new tools, it’s about overhauling the entire acquisition process first.”
With yet another round of failing grades on the latest FITARA report cards, it’s clear to all that throwing money at new IT will simply result in kicking the proverbial can down the proverbial road. “With procurement cycles being, at minimum, 18 months, federal IT leaders will find themselves with an outdated system if more isn’t done to develop agile acquisition strategies,” Kramer said.
The first place that Kramer sees an opportunity to drive change is in introducing agility into the procurement cycle starting with the RFP process. “Right now federal agencies tend to issue what I call vanilla RFPs,” quipped Kramer. “The RFPs don’t align IT with mission requirements and this results in responses from vendors that don’t quite solve the problem. When you combine this misalignment with a 6-12 month review cycle, plus the 3 month dispute process, it’s so easy to see how the time adds up resulting in technology that is at best outdated and, at worst, both outdated and unable to solve the problem by the time it’s acquired.”
But Kramer also sees some bright spots in the federal government. Citing innovations such as the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) upcoming Code-a-Thon to help solve the opioid crisis, Kramer said “that because the crisis is happening right now, the solutions are needed right now, not at the end of an RFP process.”
Kramer added that HHS is a good position to try out innovative solutions like code-a-thons because of the guidance of CIO Beth Killoran. “Her long tenure at the agency in IT leadership positions gives her an exceptional perspective on the big picture challenges facing the agency. Because of this broad view, Killoran can then part out tactical projects that address immediate mission-critical problems, and fits into the overall vision.”
While every agency will benefit from the influx of funding under the MGT Act and the ability, the real winners based on Kramer’s insights, will be those that address both not only the IT challenges, but also the procedural and practical constraints of being part of a very large organization.