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Last century technology stalls U.S. government in the 21st century

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The U.S. was the first to place a man on the moon, developed the Internet, introduced social media model for the 21st century but cannot place HealthCare.gov into the 21st century, according to the N.Y. Times.

The problem lies in the human element of the government branches of Congressional rules from the past century stifling any technology to be purchased and applied to the HealthCare.gov system.

Longstanding laws intended to prevent corruption and conflict of interest often saddle agencies with vendors selected by distant committees and contracts that stretch for years, even as technology changes rapidly. The Congressional legislation leads to rules that leave the government officials in charge of a project with little choice over their suppliers, little control over the project’s execution and almost no authority to terminate a contract that is failing.

‘It may make sense if you are buying pencils or cleaning services,’ said David Blumenthal, who during Mr. Obama first term has led a federal office to promote the adoption of electronic health records. But it does not work ‘when you have these kinds of incredibly complex, data-driven, nationally important, performance-based procurements.’

The Standish Group, an information technology firm, deemed just 4.6 percent of large-scale government contracting projects executed in the past decade to be successful. More than half were ‘challenged’ and about 40 percent simply ‘failed.’

Examples of outmoded technology and wasted billions on failed programs appeared last year when Air Force One scrapped a $1 billion supply management system, the new FB.I. system stopped after spending $170 million and a $438 million air traffic control systems update which is years behind schedule is expected to go over $270 million over budget of a total program cost of $45 billion dollar nationwide upgrade.

Clay Johnson, a former Presidential Innovation Fellow, founder and CEO of the Department of Better Technology wrote an article last Oct. 22 that the problem with government procurement of technology is in how the government is restricted from procurement of updated technology. In the case of HealthCare.gov it was software. ‘The regulation is 6,500 pages long, and if it isn’t followed, people go to jail,’ wrote Mr. Johnson in the N.Y. Daily News article.

Fast forward a few months and lawmakers and others in government feel that fixing the problem will fall on the next administration.

Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, said the budget office, formally known as the Office of Management and Budget, refused to back bipartisan legislation that would consolidate responsibility for technology projects in a single person at each agency and increase the transparency of government spending on technology.

‘O.M.B. takes the position, as it usually does, that we don’t need legislation to address these issues,’ said Mr. Connolly, who represents a Washington suburb with hundreds of federal technology contractors. ‘O.M.B. was really our biggest stumbling block.’

Obama aides state that the President is eager to address the issue and that he met Last Tuesday, with 15 executives from some of the nation’s largest technology companies, including Tim Cook of Apple and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Administration officials said the meeting was a first step in confronting the broader issue highlighted by the health care website debacle.

The meeting was originally set to address the N.S.A. and data collection issues. The President used the meeting to also highlight technology issues facing the government in today’s tech world.

Experts said the HealthCare.gov debacle might ignite movement toward common-sense changes. ‘There’s certainly momentum,’ said Mike Hettinger of the Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group.

But Mr. Connolly, the Virginia lawmaker, said he saw little evidence of a new push by the administration, even as he expressed hope Mr. Obama would make the issue more of a priority.

When Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) stated last Oct. 20 on Sunday morning CNN 'State of the Union' in reference to the HealthCare.gov debacle, ‘Send Air Force One out to Silicon Valley, load it up with smart people, bring them back to Washington and fix this problem,’ he was partly accurate. The government healthcare website needed some really smart tech people to get it on the web and working correctly but Washington needs some really ‘smart’ people who actively change the archaic laws and methods for procurement of technology tools of the 21st century.

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