GAO Tech Chief Says Washington Should Start Small On Big Projects

Quentin Hardy | The New York Times | June 18, 2014

When it comes to technology, Washington needs to learn how to fail smaller.  At a Senate hearing last week, David A. Powner, information technology director at the Government Accountability Office, said 183 of 759 federal technology contracts, worth about $10 billion, were in danger of failing before completion. In a separate interview, he laid much of the cause on an endemic need for government programs to think big.

“We like to do things that make a big bang, that take five or six years before there’s any kind of outcome,” he said. “Most things fail when you’re doing complex things that don’t deliver for years.” If you can spot the little problems, he said, they can be fixed before they become big ones.  The most stunning example in recent memory, the insurance marketplace, speaks to that point. On Day 1, it was supposed to be both national and catering to anyone, using newer technologies with which many of the contractors did not have deep experience...