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Want to Fix Federal IT Contracting? Don’t Just Focus on IT

cosma/Shutterstock.com

Total federal IT spending now tops more than $80 billion annually, but agencies are still stuck with the same sluggish, even “calcified” approach to federal buying they’ve been saddled with for years.

True solutions to the problem, however, will probably be found in a broad overhaul of the acquisition system writ large -- not a fragmented focus on information technology.

That’s one of the key takeaways from a new report on procurement reform from the Professional Services Council. The industry group, which represents scores of government contractors, lays out a lengthy to-do list for reform-minded policymakers.

“While the acquisition of information technology brings with it certain unique characteristics, focusing on IT acquisition alone is not sufficient,” the report states.

That’s because the markets for both services and technology are rapidly converging, according to the report, citing the rapid move by agencies to cloud-based services.

“In other words, the traditional lines separating professional services from information technology have been blurred almost to the point of extinction, and any effort to reform, or transform, acquisition must be consistent with and reflective of these realities,” the report states.

Among the group's specific proposals:

  • The group calls on the Office of Personnel Management to take the lead in creating a new career path for technology management in the federal government, which the report envisions as a "highly skilled, hybrid technology management workforce." 
  • In addition, the group also wants to get new blood into the business, calling for a rethink of the incentive structure to better reward big prime contractors for partnering with new and emerging players.
  • Finally, the report recommends streamlining the tangled budgeting process that currently funds’ IT acquisitions in favor of a single topline IT appropriation within agencies. That could “alleviate the challenge of having to move money between different appropriation accounts,” such as research and development and operations and maintenance, and would also provide Congress with greater “near real-time transparency” into agencies’ IT spending.

(Image via cosma/Shutterstock.com)

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