Federal CTO Wants to Speed Up Government, Health Care Procurement IT

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-08-05

Federal CTO Wants to Speed Up Government, Health Care Procurement IT

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.-Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra made his first visit to Silicon Valley Aug. 4 and said he generally wants to speed up the pace of IT innovation and, in particular, new IT procurement and deployment-not only in the government, but also in health care and education.

Chopra, selected in May by President Barack Obama, also said he'd like to help promote the creation of thousands of new jobs, mainly through government initiatives that support upgrading IT in health care, education and local government that will trickle down to help bolster the sluggish economy.

Chopra said one of his most important agenda items is to transform the federal government's long-entrenched culture of slow-moving product and service updates, due mostly to antiquated procurement rules and regulations.

Speaking to a Churchill Club audience of about 350 at the Computer History Museum here, Chopra acknowledged that large sections of the federal government's IT are probably 15 to 20 years out of date, but he also reported that certain pockets are well-equipped and working productively at this time.

"We want to encourage innovation to the extent we can, but we also realize it's not the easiest thing in the world to bring those innovations to the federal government," Chopra said. "How many of you had tried to respond to an RFP [request for proposal] with 5,000 detailed requirements? When you do, your intervention could be done with pennies on the dollar. This is the challenge we're confronting in the 'right now.' "

Chopra said he and U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, who worked together in Virginia state government before moving to Washington, have been meeting regularly to align their agendas. Kundra, who was named to his position in March, is the first federal CIO.

"Vivek and I are going through a litany of open government platforms-rules that we can provision-so that it will be as easy for federal agencies to consume [new IT hardware, software and services] as it is for you and me to open a Facebook account, a Twitter account or you name it," Chopra said.

"If it's this easy to consume [IT and Web services] in our personal lives, it should be just as easy to consume them in our professional lives."

Federal CTO Wants to Speed Up Government, Health Care Procurement IT

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For example, Chopra said, the president asked him and Kundra on June 25 to help make U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services become a lot more consumer-friendly-with demonstrated progress in 90 days.

"I don't know how many of you have had to go through this process, but 'customer-friendly' may not be at the top of your list to describe how this agency operates," Chopra said, eliciting laughs from the audience.

"The people who are there are absolutely committed to customer service, but there have always been other issues. The president put us on the spot. So we worked closely together and came up with a vastly improved Website that will, for the first time ever, allow applicants to get their updates basically like Burger King's 'Have it your way': You can get it by text message [or] e-mail and can get it by visiting us online. We've opened up the kimono to say, 'This is how many steps there are to get a green card or whatever it is you're getting.' People can see where they are in the queue."

Chopra said this project will be operating for no extra cost within the 90-day period set by Obama.

"The point is, we're doing this within our capacity and our resources. We're reallocating, we're going after things that are higher priority and this will be live-or I will have a lot to answer to from my boss-by Sept. 22," Chopra said.

This is what Chopra would like to see take place throughout the federal government as an example of how it can emulate enterprise and consumer IT.

Chopra highlighted the example of David Green, an entrepreneur from Baltimore, who was frustrated that the market cost for hearing aids was too high, thus making hearing aids inaccessible for many of the 240 million people around the world who suffer from hearing loss.

Green re-engineered hearing aids and produced a prototype within three years that could cost as little as $60 in the field, Chopra said.

"In public policy, we engaged on this issue by helping subsidize the cost, and we will debate who will pay for the hearing aids. It's a world outrage that this is not happening," Chopra said. "Let's use the body power of government to bring the price down to x minus 10 percent because of [better] procurement. Why should it cost that much in the first place?"

If cyber-security is improved, innovation may follow

Also regarding health care, Chopra said if Silicon Valley and the IT industry can "get the cyber-security framework right, it could fuel the next wave of growth on the Internet infrastructure."

He said, "If [we] get the security and privacy aspects right [in health care] and instill the kind of confidence in the American people that, in fact, it will be secure and used in the right way, I think it will fuel a wide-ranging set of product innovations that at least should inspire the consumer market."

Chopra said the health care industry needs fundamental payment reform.

"Our [insurance] incentives today are not designed to reward front-end wellness activity," Chopra said. "Health reform is the key; if [we] get health reform through, it will allow us to create a market incentive to promote that kind of wellness and care that hopefully, coupled with security and privacy for protection and consumer confidence, will spur a new wave of innovation [in IT]."

Chopra cited the increasing use by doctors of Web services such as Epocrates, a free mobile drug reference that can be accessed by BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm and Windows devices.

"This is great health care IT," Chopra said. "It is a tool that allows doctors to make better judgments about medications on-site, and it's an accessible format. It's a game-changing innovation."

You can view a video of Chopra's speech on the Churchill Club YouTube channel site.

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