House members unveil IT procurement shake-up

Responding to the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, a bipartisan group of House members on Wednesday proposed reforms to the way the government buys information technology.

Five lawmakers introduced the Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology (RFP-IT) Act, which they said would make it easier for small businesses to get their foot in the door and provide new oversight for major products.

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“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,” Silicon Valley Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on technology, said in a statement.

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," she added.

Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) joined with Eshoo in introducing the bill.

Each year, the federal government spends about $80 billion on IT, though it has long been criticized for mismanagement and bureaucratic slowness. For instance, just last week The Associated Press reported that the Social Security Administration has spent $300 million on a “boondoggle” to replace its current IT system that is “nowhere near ready.”

Complexities in the current system make it easier for large companies familiar with the process to collect the big contracts, critics say.

The lawmakers’ new bill would try to help out smaller companies by expanding the number of contracts that use a simplified process and adding the Small Business Administration to the federal council that sets procurement policy. It would also create a new Digital Government Office within the White House's budget office to coordinate federal IT policy and coordinate between agencies. 

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