After experiencing many failures of IT systems developed with private contractors, the United Kingdom now has a "government digital service" with 300 employees. It also has a cabinet-level position for the director, who was quoted on NPR (10/23) in U.K. Official Urges U.S. Government To Adopt A Digital Core. The NPR report begins:

A federal IT project plagued with high-profile problems, integration breakdowns involving dozens of contractors, and taxpayers footing a multimillion-dollar price tag. Well, that scenario has also played out in the United Kingdom - so many times, in fact, that it led to big changes in how government tech work gets done there....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....
The report explains that the in-house team has made available "through one site and streamlined system" nearly all public services, such as voter registration, tax payments, student loan applications and passport renewal, thus saving British taxpayers nearly $20 million a year.  Not unexpectedly, one of the loudest critics of the new UK system was the president of the U.K. branch of CGI, the biggest contractor on healthcare.gov.

I mentioned the NPR report in a comment several days ago, and pelagicray responded that there is "expertise in government to pull off these things" but Congress and the Executive have not supported the necessary reform in acquisition and tech services.

We have too many in complex acquisitions that are like personal aircraft pilots thrown into the cockpit of a jumbo jet....With each department, indeed each large agency, able to venture off into complex IT projects we get almost random results. These efforts are parochial, and expertise that is available somewhere in government [is] rarely tapped by the peculiar agency or department venturing into a field requiring expertise and experience — and top officials  that understand what must be done to pull off a large integration project....The UK made a sensible move, though we can be sure that too will not solve all problems. Link
waterstreet2013 added that while the UK example is helpful, "CGI, OC, McKesson, CSC, RAND, SAIC, Accenture, LM, UT, the Boozers, et.al. would go crazy" if the U.S. developed a similar system.

In the NPR story, the director of the British service, Mike Bracken, says President Obama has the "wrong perspective" when he insists that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website.

I don't think you would hear politicians say, well, the government buildings, they're not the government because you have to go to government buildings to transact with them. So, Web services are indivisible from public services. And that's a generational message that I think the Web generation understands.
Of course, the Affordable Care Act is far more than a website, and people can also apply for health insurance by phone, with paper applications, or with insurance agents certified to sell approved plans. However, the problems resulting from outsourcing the healthcare.gov website could lead to recognition that we need a government digital service similar to the British system.


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