HHS CIO warns of rising federal IT hurdles

Health and Human Services Department CIO Michael Carleton raised concerns this week that the changing business complexion of federal IT suppliers, ever-tighter federal budgets, and new contractor personnel identification hurdles are making it harder to successfully complete federal IT projects.

Speaking in one of his first public addresses since taking over as CIO at HHS last July, Carleton told a group of contractors at a Jan. 30 Industry Advisory Council meeting that HHS's spending plans this year would stay roughly in line with the $2.8 billion it spent on 679 Department IT projects in fiscal 2007. However, appropriations cutbacks and rising payrolls are effectively reducing spending on actual IT work by 5-to-6 percent this year, Carleton said. HHS also provides grants to states which supports additional IT work. Carleton, who is also deputy assistant secretary for IT at HHS, said the outlook for fiscal 2009 wasn't expected to improve.

Perhaps of greater concern, Carleton said, was his observation that fewer vendors with proven expertise in commercial markets are competing for federal projects. In their place, he said, are a small number of 'players' ' politically savvy companies specializing almost exclusively in government work'which can demonstrate past performance on government projects, but which may not be as capable or reliable in bringing the best IT practices to federal agencies, he said.

'I think organizations are a lot different than when the (federal competitive acquisition) rules were put in place,' Carleton said, adding the past performance provision in federal contracting rules may be leading to 'unintended consequences.'

He added a related concern is the extent to which the government continues to establish specific security and other IT requirements--such as the new Federal Desktop Core Configuration standard'which are not required in the commercial market, but which must be met by vendors wishing to sell into the government.

'We're getting more and more prescriptive,' with the government's technology requirements and that's leading to higher costs and greater risks for federal IT suppliers, Carlton said.

Carleton also warned that new, more stringent identification requirements under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 will add to the burden contractors must bear. Contractor personnel with even minor credit or legal problems could face protracted delays in obtaining basic clearance to work on federal sites, Carleton said.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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