Pelosi: “They need a new technology system at the IRS”

posted at 9:21 pm on June 19, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham

But of course. They probably just don’t have enough money! They need more of our money. In her press conference today, the former Speaker allowed that the only problem at the IRS is a profound lack of wicked sweet MacBooks:

“What it convinces me [of] is that they need a new technology system at the IRS,” Pelosi told reporters. “They need to upgrade their technology, get it right, so that there’s no suspicion about what agenda anyone may have on that.”

Yes, the federal government often has terrible technology. But it’s not because they don’t have enough money. It’s because they spend way too much money on technology that does not work. Obamacare’s websites are the most glaring example of this habit, but it’s nearly ubiquitous in federal agencies. A friend of mine who writes about the federal government’s cumbersome and corruptible procurement process offers an example—Recovery.gov— and a possible solution—pilot programs for governmental IT projects. Make them smaller, testable, and cheaper before you spend tens of millions on a broken monstrosity. Sounds like a no-brainer to someone who thinks all government operations might operate better if they were smaller, testable, and cheaper. Some might even be surprised to find out the giant federal government doesn’t already do this.

We discussed Recovery.gov, which the Sunlight Foundation bid on when Johnson was there. Sunlight thought it could build it for $1.4 million, but because the site was part of the Alliant GWAC, Sunlight was ineligible. The site ended up costing $18 million.

“It certainly doesn’t look like an $18 million website. It’s touted as way to combat waste, fraud and abuse, but not a lot of people are finding mustache-twirlers by searching on there. Open government relies on technology, and so you’re not going to build a house on a foundation that’s broken.…Fixing Recovery.gov would mean changing the scope of the project. The RFP had unnecessary things in it, like datacubing, firewalls, etc., things government didn’t need to build it, but no one was equipped with the knowledge of how modern software systems are built, or they would have asked for much simpler software.”

This led to a discussion of pilot programs, which Johnson has championed in the federal government.

“I’d say the first thing we’re going to do is three $250k pilot projects for Recovery.gov. Keep it small and restrained, three teams of six people or less to implement. Over the course of one month, we’d see which is most successful out of those pilots, and attach clear metrics as to how those pilots work. After the pilots are completed, we pick the one that works the most, allow it to grow. It’s a more agile form of contracting than giving a 4-year contract and hoping the contractor does the job right. You’re less dependent upon your initial assumptions. “

Whether it’s incompetence or nefariousness, the IRS is not preserving the records the law requires it to preserve. At the very least, its incompetence leaves room for the nefarious to hard drive crash evidence out of existence easily. They probably do need a new technology system at the IRS. And, they should have to find the money for it in their current budget among the ashes of whatever they burned on their current disaster. Or, just cut back on the conferences.


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