One of the many lessons learned from the botched Healthcare.gov rollout gets to the heart of how the government buys products and services.
While the Healthcare.gov debacle has once again put a focus on the government’s track record of troubled IT projects, the conversation has largely been about the lack of experience and expertise for managing large projects and much needed authority for chief information officers to effectively oversee these projects.
Another dimension of that discussion is whether the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other agencies are using the right contract vehicles to begin with and whether they apply due diligence before using existing contracts.
Angela Billups, senior procurement executive and associate deputy assistant secretary for acquisition at the Health and Human Services Department, had a discussion on that theme with a CMS contracting officer following the Healthcare.gov roll out. She told an audience during a recent Collation for Government Procurement training conference that she wanted to find out what the officer was thinking and how the contracting decisions were made.
After the conversation, she said, she determined that “there really was not much thought put into it.”
Billups didn’t elaborate on how this decision impacted development of Healthcare.gov but said there has to be a balance when using existing interagency contractors for purchases.
“What they had gotten into was a culture of everything IT they would put it on their enterprisewide IT contract, but they wouldn’t think about whether or not it really fit,” Billups said. “The real question becomes whether or not those existing vehicles really provide the end result that you’re looking for.”
The case for using existing contracts is to simplify the acquisition process and not duplicate work that has already been done by another contracting office. The Office of Management and Budget encourages agencies to use interagency contracts and provides guidance for deciding when it’s appropriate to use them.
“Picking the right contract type means I have the option to do fixed-price, cost-plus and time and material, the full spectrum,” said Richard Ginman, director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy.
Ginman noted the General Services Administration’s OASIS contract for professional services as a contract vehicle that provides flexibility. “I need contracting officers to have the flexibility,” he said.
“If interagency doesn’t have [the] full range and doesn’t meet the needs, don’t use it,” he said. “If it is there and fits needed work, then use it.”