Innovation Files has moved! For ITIF's quick takes, quips, and commentary on the latest in tech policy, go to


How FITARA Can Help Federal Agencies with Their IT Problem

In 2004, the Department of Veterans Affairs was forced to scrap a multimillion-dollar computer system that was designed to streamline the agency’s costs. Ironically, the project cost taxpayers $265 million, and is one of many examples of federal IT projects which go massively over budget and under deliver. Part of the reason for these failures is the last time we made significant changes to how our government acquired its own IT was the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. This law was enacted the year before was registered as a domain name, back when Windows 95 was the new big thing. Almost two decades later, while innovation has continued to press forward, our government’s ability to efficiently acquire new IT has lagged miserably behind.

Luckily, a few lawmakers are trying to remedy that. In March 2013, Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Gerry Connelly (D-VA) introduced H.R. 1232, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), to overhaul the federal government’s approach to acquiring IT. The bill seeks to designate clear responsibility and authority over federal IT investment, enhance the government’s ability to get good IT, strengthen the federal IT

Read the rest header

Lessons from the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace Failure

One can’t pass a single day it seems without seeing in the news coverage of the problems with the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM). But what is perhaps most surprising is not that the web site had problems, but that people are surprised that it had problems. The current process of managing and acquiring federal IT is largely broken and the failure of the HIM is simply the newest reminder of that dysfunction. We can just go down the list of past high-profile failures, including the delayed launch last year of, the FBI’s Virtual Case Files program, the Census Bureau’s handheld PC debacle, and the FAA modernization.

There are several reasons for this dysfunction. First, the contracting process does not work as it should. Larded up with an accretion of rules and requirements from past scandals and failures, only the most intrepid firms are able to manage the labyrinth called federal contracting. Moreover, as Congress has tried to use federal contracting to fulfill social policy goals that should be addressed with other policy tools, agencies must give preferences to a wide variety of businesses—small businesses, women-owned businesses,

Read the rest

Transportation Security Administration Logo

How To Get the E-Government Wrong: The TSA Case

While there are an array of great things going on currently in e-government in the U.S. government, including a shift to cloud computing, more efforts at using mobile platforms and social media, and efforts to streamline and consolidate the hundreds if not thousands of legacy systems, at the end of the day the way the public still mostly interacts with government digitally is through government agency web sites.

And yet, too many of them remain user-unfriendly and poorly maintained. A case in point is the Transportation Security Administration. I suppose it’s to be expected that the first thing a visitor to sees is a picture of a two people holding a puppy. I am sure that has something to do with airport security, but don’t really know or care.

So, as a traveler, I see the “For Travelers” tab and click on it. I don’t know about you, but the main thing I want to know is what are the average security checkpoint wait times at the airports I am traveling through at various times of the day. But there is no link to anything like this. If one

Read the rest