Fed IT Reform Bill Introduced in Senate, Spurred by HealthCare.gov

Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., (pictured) and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, introduced the bill.

Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., (pictured) and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, introduced the bill. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP file photo

Similar legislation passed a House committee earlier this year.

This story has been updated to include additional information about the Senate bill. 

A bipartisan team of senators introduced legislation on Tuesday that would overhaul how the government buys and builds information technology systems.

The move from Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, was spawned in part by the abysmal performance of the Obama administration’s online health insurance marketplace HealthCare.gov, which was largely out of commission for the first month after its Oct. 1 launch.

Similar legislation passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year and is awaiting action from the full House. A co-sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., has predicted the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act would have a strong chance of passing given public attention to HealthCare.gov’s poor performance.

“The systemically flawed rollout of HealthCare.gov is one high-profile example of IT procurement failures, but numerous more projects incur cost overruns, project delays and are abandoned altogether,” Moran said in a statement.

Advocates have said the House version of the IT reform bill could cut billions of dollars from the government’s $80 billion annual IT budget by reducing bureaucracy in the contracting process and increasing accountability in government IT shops. Some critics have worried, though, that the legislation may increase bureaucracy rather than reduce it.

Both the House and Senate bills would mandate that each agency have only one person with the title chief information officer so that one person could be held accountable for major fumbles similar to the HealthCare.gov launch. 

The House version of the bill would also give the CIO full authority over the agency’s IT spending.

The Senate bill, known as the  Federal Information Technology Savings, Accountability, and Transparency Act, would give agency CIOs budget authority for commercial, off-the-shelf items and mandate that they play a major role in budget decisions about other IT purchases.

The Senate bill gives CIO’s hiring authority for agency staff with IT responsibilities and requires that those staffers report to the CIO to the extent he or she deems sufficient. The House bill would create centers of excellence across government that could consult with other agencies about particular categories of IT buying.

Both bills also mandate more transparency about government IT investments. 

The White House has avoided public comment on the bill, though federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel has said giving agency CIOs budget authority is less important than giving them “a seat at the table” when major decisions are being made.

The IT reform bill was also introduced as an amendment to House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act but failed to make it into the final bill, which passed the House last week and is awaiting action in the Senate.

"The federal government needs to be able to build cutting-edge, 21st century computer systems, but right now we are hobbled by laws written in the days of floppy disks and telephone modems,” Udall said.

The Senate bill was also cosponsored by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.