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  •  Even if it hums without a glitch we should all be (7+ / 0-)

    interested in a problem it put into a brief spotlight. In "With HealthCare.gov, the government’s bad management skills are showing again" with:

    The malfunctioning HealthCare.gov is simply the latest in a long series of problems for large, complex government technology projects. The price tag of the Coast Guard’s project to modernize its fleet ballooned from $17 billion to $29 billion because of cost overruns, oversight failures and massive contracting flaws. The Homeland Security Department’s multibillion-dollar initiative to develop an electronic “virtual” fence along the border with Mexico has been halted after software and contractor problems. A four-year effort to integrate service-member files between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department has been plagued by delays and dysfunction. And the IRS’s decades-long effort to improve electronic filing of tax returns and issue refunds faster is several years behind schedule and vastly over budget.
    The authors, all former Democratic administration officials, make good points on why this is a persistent problem costing billions and causing frustration among those the systems are supposed to serve. Among the solutions, importantly focusing on respect and incentives for experts needed to execute such programs well, is a note I strongly support as someone with personal experience in both successes and failures of such system developments—though I consider the specific suggestion far from complete:
    Second, the federal bureaucracy should consolidate programs with similar missions. The Government Accountability Office has provided a blueprint of hundreds of programs that should be considered. For example, there are dozens of programs serving veterans that, in many cases, duplicate efforts and make it harder for states to help men and women who have served.
    System development on the scale required in government is far more complex that the usual commercial examples. It can and has been done well. It usually is not. Few agencies, even cabinet level departments, economically retains the contracting and systems engineering expertise long term to bring these things off well. An NPR piece shows the U.K. is on the right track with a "digital core" concept as told in the NPR interview:
    That is Mike Bracken, a technologist who watched national IT programs fail again and again in his home, the United Kingdom. The tipping point for the U.K. government came when a system for the National Health Service got contracted out, cost more than a billion pounds and - you guessed it - didn't work right for its end-users.

    BRACKEN: I think that was the moment when both politicians and civil servants felt it's time to try another tack here because we have grown accustomed to too many technology failures in government and also, our digital services aren't keeping up with digital services outside of government.

    HU: So the U.K. changed up its entire approach to government tech projects. Instead of multiple agencies procuring different contractors for their individual jobs, it put digital at the heart of government. Parliament created the government digital service, attracted 300 technologists to work for it and gave Mike Bracken a cabinet-level position as its boss.

    The initial failure with this system started when it by custom and policy "naturally" fell to HHS to do a complex IT development. That department is hardly known for expertise in large IT developments. DoD has its many IT failures as well, but also had successes. It is as if HHS was tasked to oversee development of a high tech supersonic medevac aircraft because it was "medical."

    The agencies and departments are the "business" arms that require the systems. They know the "business" the system is to support. They rarely know the guts of system development contracting. They are largely amateurs at refining specifications so as not to drive expensive dead ends. They often have preferred and even required ways of contracting that are not suitable for IT development projects.

    A system in which a "system development core" of contracting and systems engineering expertise is used by multiple departments and agencies and has the ability to force the business side to recognize the development side imperatives (cost vs. schedule, requirements definition, etc.) would I think hammer out much better development results.

    That is something we taxpayers and citizens need to begin paying attention to as it is costing both money and a working government. Then as the authors of the first article note:

    More perniciously, repeated failure reinforces a belief — widely promoted by the right wing of the Republican Party — that government cannot do anything right. If we lose faith in the idea that our nation can collectively accomplish great things, talented young people who could be interested in government will take their technical or administrative skills to the private sector, where they will be better appreciated and better paid.

    The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

    by pelagicray on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 06:41:01 AM PST

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