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Obama Calls for IT Procurement Reform

Evan Vucci/AP File Photo

President Obama on Monday called for an overhaul of the way the federal government purchases information technology in the wake of the troubled launch of the website.

“There are a whole range of things that we’re going to need to do once we get this fixed -- to talk about federal procurement when it comes to IT and how that’s organized,” Obama said in remarks in Washington before members of Organizing for Action, a grassroots advocacy organization that grew out of his presidential campaign.

Obama said, “I personally have been frustrated with the problems around the website on health care.  And it’s inexcusable.”

The president said part of the problem was simply managing an operation as large and complex as the federal government. “What I want to just remind people of is that this government is an enormous enterprise,” he said, “and so even as sometimes we see ourselves getting stymied at the congressional level, at the administrative level, in the work that we’re doing, all kinds of changes are happening.”

Several observers of the implementation have said the ultimate problem is with the federal procurement system and the way contractors are selected for major projects. Clay Johnson, co-founder of Blue State Digital, which managed Obama’s highly touted online efforts in the 2008 presidential campaign and later became a Presidential Innovation Fellow, has been an outspoken critic of the IT procurement process.

“I’m not concerned with how you fix,” Johnson told CNN in October. “I’m concerned with how you fix the system that’s costing us literally billions of dollars.”

Bloomberg News reported Monday that the tight deadline for unveiling by Oct. 1 led the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to use a streamlined procurement process to select a vendor to complete the bulk of the work. Ultimately, only four firms bid on the contract, including CGI Federal, the company that was selected.

Join Clay Johnson and other experts at Nextgov Prime in Washington Nov. 20-21 to discuss the biggest challenges and opportunities facing federal IT leaders. Registration is free for federal employees.

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