The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the many significant technological challenges our government faces, renewing calls to rapidly enhance IT modernization programs. Investments in these programs are critical for both our near-term crisis and our long-term prospects. In many cases, they are long overdue.
But as government agencies look to accelerate their IT modernization efforts — and contractors look to support those projects — it’s important to remember that people are the critical element determining whether technology upgrades succeed. Attempting to modernize without a comprehensive approach that accounts for an agency’s culture, engages its workforce, and addresses critical business practices can actually create new or additional challenges that limit effectiveness and negatively affect mission outcomes.
This process begins with an understanding of how to acquire technology. Government procurement rules and regulations largely pre-date the technologies developed over the past decade. This puts acquisition officials in a tough spot, as they look to deliver innovation to their agencies. After all, no one wants to be the next poster child for wasteful spending or procurement violations.
Risk aversion in the acquisition community is holding back government innovation. It’s essential that we change that culture and provide the acquisition community with the tools, processes, and incentives to meet the challenges of today and the future.
While the administration has taken several positive steps in addressing these challenges, including making friction-less acquisition a cross-agency priority goal, much more still must be done. We need a heightened focus on outcome-based procurements and a shift in mindset from labor-based to outcome-based acquisitions.
The contracting community also has an important role to play in helping to streamline acquisition processes. Complaining about burdensome or outdated regulations does not suffice. We have a responsibility to provide clear, transparent practices that empower acquisition officials to understand exactly what they’re purchasing. That means developing easily understood tracking mechanisms that define the value of enhanced technology for agencies and taxpayers, as well as training in alternate contracting mechanisms that they can use.