Like many government computer systems, the U.S. federal information technology (IT) procurement model is slow, outdated, and long overdue for a reboot. 1 As the largest single purchaser of code, 2 in fiscal year (FY) 2010 the Federal Government spent more than $77.1 billion on IT procurement, and that number is projected to grow higher by the close of 2011. 3 This is not a recent trend. Over the past decade, federal IT spending has swelled nearly seventy percent, up from $45.6 billion in 2001, 4 for a total bill of more than $500 billion. 5 This growth is partially a result of the unfortunate fact that as few as nine percent of projects are delivered on budget and on time. 6 The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that roughly forty-eight percent of all IT projects must be rebaselined, 7 and of those rebaselined projects, fifty-one percent must be rebaselined a second time. 8
Compounding the problem, end users fail entirely to use nearly forty-five percent of features procured and rarely use another nineteen percent of those features. 9 Thus, purchasing agencies ultimately utilize only about one-third of all features paid for by American tax dollars. 10 In the end, nearly forty-five percent of federally procured software features ultimately fail to meet the user’s needs. 11 It is therefore no surprise that the Secretary of the Department of Defense (DoD) Robert Gates called federal IT procurement “baroque.” 12 Too often IT procurement requirements are crafted with the input of neither end-users nor product developers. 13 As Office of Management Budget (OMB) Director Peter R. Orszag noted, federal IT projects cost more than they should, take longer than they should, and often fail to meet agency needs. 14 Today’s federal regulations shackle government agencies to outdated project management practices and prevent them from harnessing the true power of IT innovations, which have far outpaced the laws that govern them. 15
To better embrace innovation and respond to changing organizational needs, the Government must embrace a two-pronged approach involving both regulatory reform and top-down support for best-practices education to empower IT-procuring agencies to pursue more agile software development methods. By requiring that detailed specifications be outlined at the onset of the process, government procurement regulations encourage the less flexible, waterfall development techniques, rather than the more modern, agile development approaches used by the private sector today. 16 While most prior attempts to reform federal IT procurement focused solely on statutory changes, 17 this Note proposes more modern project management practices and argues for top-down reform on both a regulatory and a human level.
Originally published in The Public Contract Law Journal, Vol. 41, Issue 1.