Four years after President Obama vowed to “dramatically reform the way we do business on contracts,” the spectacular failure of the HealthCare.gov website has renewed calls for changes in how the government hires and manages private technology companies.
But despite Mr. Obama’s promises in the last two months to “leap into the 21st century,” there is little evidence that the administration is moving quickly to pursue an overhaul of the current system in the coming year.
Outside experts, members of Congress, technology executives and former government officials say the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s website is the nearly inevitable result of a procurement process that stifles innovation and wastes taxpayer dollars. The Air Force last year scrapped a $1 billion supply management system. Officials abandoned a new F.B.I. system after spending $170 million on it. And a $438 million air traffic control systems update, a critical part of a $45 billion nationwide upgrade that is years behind schedule, is expected to go at least $270 million over budget.
Longstanding laws intended to prevent corruption and conflict of interest often saddle agencies with vendors selected by distant committees and contracts that stretch for years, even as technology changes rapidly. The rules frequently leave the government officials in charge of a project with little choice over their suppliers, little control over the project’s execution and almost no authority to terminate a contract that is failing.