It has been a week since we made the statement, “It’s Not the Obamacare Website It’s the Government Contractor, Stupid ---- and the Government Representative who signed off on Operational Readiness”. In that diary we said that the problems encountered with the implementation of the ACA IT Enterprise infrastructure were only a microcosm of the many problems that plague our Federal Government’s procurement system and that this is a unique opportunity for our news media to shine a light on this problem in hopes that we can finally fix it.
Well just when I was satisfied to write off our News Media as incompetent and inept, morsels of hope were doled out by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes. On Friday 25 October Rachel Maddow did a short segment on the “excessive” congressional oversight that the project is currently enjoying. She posited that all of this oversight might be a good thing and in the long run could help the project succeed. I’m certain that the Republicans calling these hearing don’t fully understand that their actions could end up benefitting the program. They have one goal and that is to embarrass President Obama.
I was hoping Ms. Maddow would continue this line of reasoning in follow-on shows but that hasn’t happened to date. However along comes Chris Hayes who initially drove me to write the first diary in response to his 18 Oct All In with Chris Hayes show in which he reported on the symptoms of the ACA IT website. On his 30 Oct show, Mr. Hayes had as a guest Mr. Clay Johnson from Department of Better Technology. Mr. Johnson struck at the heart of problems surrounding the Fed’s procurement system touching on many of the concerns he and many have about our broken contracting process and how it’s costing the taxpayer billions of dollars annually. He sees this as an opportune time to raise issues about the procurement system when we have so much attention being placed on the implementation of the ACA IT Infrastructure and when we are discussing upcoming budgets.
Yes use this opportunity to identify and isolate problems with the Fed’s Procurement process and repair it? Our news media must drive this and not allow the Republicans to walk away from this issue after they are finished milking it for political gain. The Fed’s procurement process is costing taxpayers gross sums of money due to over-running and over-budget contracts. According to the GAO, the 98 Major Defense Acquisition Programs from Fiscal Year 2010 collectively ran $402 billion over budget and were an average of 22 months behind schedule since their first full estimate. That $402 billion would buy a lot of food stamps. In some cases there are several programs whose cost overruns are more than the “current” total cost of the ACA IT program of $300 million. The Fed’s procurement system is ripe with examples that we could use to fix this system once and for all.
In the case of IT Modernization, the Federal Government has undertaken numerous Enterprise Transformation Initiatives over the last 20 years with many of them failing. The Standish Group reported that 94% of all Federal Government IT Projects above $10 million fail. These IT modernization efforts started because of the Clinger-Cohen act of 1996 in conjunction with White House Executive Order 13011 issued by Bill Clinton in 1996. The objective of both policies was to transform the Federal Government and the agencies that comprise it into a single inter-operable enterprise. The foundation or enabling capability of this Federal Enterprise of course is its IT infrastructure. For the record, George Bush revoked Executive Order 13011 on 12 May 2006 in the mist of all government departments and agencies transforming their enterprises.
Problems with the design, development, integration, and implementation of the Fed IT infrastructure has given project managers and engineers tons of headaches over the years. These same problems are currently plaguing the implementation of the ACA IT Infrastructure program. It is just another in the long line of IT projects where the Federal Government is asking the lowest bidding contractor to deliver a cutting edge technical solution under tight schedules, unrealistic budgets, and a congress that resents government programs.
The media must help us drive congress to determine whether these problems are systemic, the result of greedy and unscrupulous contractors, failure of our government to properly manage and run this system, or a combination of any or all. It is not fair to sit around and say that the contractors are abusing the system when we do not know if the broken system is enabling the abuse. Regardless, we must face the fact that when a company wins a government contract, in many cases the successful bid that won the work isn’t necessarily what the taxpayer ends up paying.
So congress is fired up and doing their jobs for once. Now our news media must exert pressure on it to investigate all of our government contracts and try to determine why taxpayers continue to pay for contracts that are grossly over budget and behind schedule. However, if the recent ACA IT Implementation congressional hearings have shown us anything, they have exposed the shear ignorance of our legislators on IT project management, IT technology, and the procurement system that buys IT goods and services. President Barack Obama recently said in a speech, “If you think the cost of education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st Century”. There is no doubt that the ignorance of our lawmakers is costing the taxpayer billions because quite frankly, just looking at their performance during the ACA IT implementation hearings we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of fixing our procurement system. In order to do that we need legislators especially those chairing and participating in oversight committees and hearings to be knowledgeable in the specific Subject Matter Area under discussion. The ACA Website is not just a webpage it is the human interface to a highly complex infrastructure comprised of systems, processes, technology and the worse element culture.
The ignorance displayed by our lawmakers during the ACA hearings quite frankly is embarrassing. Listening to them ask questions about topics that they clearly do not have any idea about or understanding of, is excruciating. Now picture these same lawmakers making critical decisions about whether a government agency or government role is viable and should continue to exist. What is scary is that many of these same individuals have presided over the largest decline of government employment since Barack Obama has been in office. Many of the positions that they have eliminated used to be government civilians who were responsible for independent verification and validation of product deliveries into our Federal Government and “seasoned” project managers, engineers, and subject matter experts that have been replaced by lower level military personnel and government civilians, or totally eliminated.
The epitome of congressional ignorance manifested itself in the form of congressperson Marsha Blackburn in her questioning of ACA IT implementation project members. Mrs. Blackburn should not have been questioning anyone on the complexities of engineering and managing the implementation of an IT Infrastructure. It was a shear and utter embarrassment to the hundreds of thousand trained Engineers, Integrators, and Project Managers in our country to listen to her. In fact, congressperson Blackburn doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. As Clay Johnson said on Chris Hayes' Show, “We have a congress that is dangerously illiterate”.
Congressperson Blackburn’s talking point way of governing and legislating should be restricted to Right Wing Media outlets and enclaves and not allowed to be out in a normal functioning society. The issues surrounding the ACA IT Enterprise Infrastructure requires knowledgeable Engineers because the same problems facing the ACA IT Enterprise are the same problems facing the IT infrastructures that run and govern our nuclear capabilities. Stop and contemplate that for a moment. This is science. I know that we have successfully removed “Science” from Political Science as evident in the way we have been running our Federal Government for the past 30 years but implementing an interoperable Federal Government Enterprise cannot be done through hocus-pocus, prayer, séances on the floor of the House of Representatives, and in many cases by the lowest bidder.
We all know that relying on Republicans to do anything outside of complaining about the evils of Barack Obama is a stretch but our news media should force them to continue to do their job or wallow in their own hypocrisy, insincerity, and incompetence. This is the perfect time during the upcoming budget negotiations to address the procurement system concerns. I fear that congress might discover that their march to reduce the size of the Federal Government has broken the Value Delivery Stream necessary to deliver quality goods and services to the Federal Government and ensuring that the taxpayer is getting the best value for his tax dollar.
Who really runs our congress? There seems to be no coherence in the topics being investigated from one hearing to the next. The taxpayer has allowed Darrell Isa to conduct hearing after hearing after hearing. What has he unearthed in these hearings? Absolutely nothing but yet for some reason our news media isn’t focused on the outcomes of these worthless endeavors. We see this same incoherence in the ACA IT implementation hearings. Congressional members are now off chasing the next shiny object. The complaint-du-jour is whether individuals should be allowed to purchase “junk insurance policies”. As Mr. Hayes pointed out on his show, “the attention span of the monkey court is short”. Well the same can be said about the news cycle to a certain extent so I beg the news media to stay on point.
For once it would be satisfying to see Congress use its oversight authority in a constructive manner rather than chasing Barack Obama conspiracy theories dreamed up in the dark recesses of sick minds. We can fix our broken procurement system but we will have to rely on the “so-called” liberal media to drive the issue because the Right Wing media is not mature or educated enough to investigate such a complicated issue and the problems surrounding it. Well unless the outcome of the investigation leads to the extinction of the Barack Obama Presidency.
Please don’t let this issue and concern wane. Force the Republicans to look at the entire Fed procurement process. There are tons of qualified Engineers who are dying to deliver quality products to the Federal Government if given a proper and fair platform on which to do it. The Republicans in Congress must understand that transforming the Federal Government’s IT infrastructure to support an interoperable Enterprise cannot be done under the constant threat of funding cuts, budget exercises, job elimination, Sequestration, and lack of science. They must understand that they have cut this government to its bare bones without fully understanding the impacts of those cuts. The news media should be asking congress to do an impact analysis of their budget cuts over the last 5 years. Better yet, the news media should commission an independent impact analysis of their own because once again science is required and we know how Congressional Republicans despise science.
Let’s face it we have serious problems in this country compounded by the fact that we have elected a group of lawmakers who simply do not have any idea how to govern this great nation. They have gutted our Federal Government almost to the point where it is nonfunctional. What is truly scary is that they do not understand their level of culpability in the problems facing the ACA IT implementation. So with the help of the news media maybe we can fix the costly problems with our Federal Procurement System.
All In with Chris Hayes, 18 October 2013
All In with Chris Hayes, 30 October 2013
The Rachel Maddow Show, 25 Oct 2013
The Standish Group
The Clinger-Cohen Act, 1996
OMB Circular A-130
The White House Executive Order 13011, Federal Information Technology, 16 July 1996
The Hamilton Project
DoD Directive 5000.1, Acquisition Management Policy 1971-Date
Barack Obama, Speech at Knox College, 24 July 2013