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Proposed Legislation Calls for Modular Contracting Focus

Two bills now active in the state Legislature aim to improve state IT work and make it more cost-efficient via a focus on less monolithic initiatives.

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State lawmakers, who have in recent sessions investigated urgent, high-profile technology gaps at the California Employment Development Department and elsewhere, now have two pieces of proposed legislation before them that could help resolve some of those needs.

The modular approach to IT projects isn’t a new concept to the state of California. State-level tech initiatives led at the highest level by the California Department of Technology (CDT) and from within by state entities themselves have used the approach for years. But two new proposed laws, Assembly Bill 2558, from Assemblymember Devon Mathis, R-Porterville, and AB 1806 from Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, would prescribe that CDT focus on using that approach – which typically features smaller, quicker procurements that can be less costly and fail less painfully. The two lawmakers referred to recent reports from the California State Auditor that examined CDT cybersecurity oversight and to work by the California Department of Health Care Services to replace the California Medicaid Management Information System. CDT does not typically comment on proposed legislation. Here’s what the two bills would do and where they differ:

  • AB 2558, which had its first reading Feb. 17, takes aim at “modular modernization.” It would, generally, amend state law to require CDT to “establish and maintain a framework of policies, procedures, and requirements for the initiation, approval, implementation, management, oversight, and continuation of information technology projects that use a modular modernization approach.” AB 2558 would require CDT to set up and put in place this “oversight modular modernization framework” by Jan. 1, 2025 – giving the department roughly two years if the bill were to clear the Statehouse and the governor’s desk this fall. The bill says more about what it considers a modular approach to be – namely, one that replaces an IT system “through multiple stand-alone components, or modules, that result in incremental improvements to the (IT) system over time instead of replacing the entire system all at once.” It would further specify that “unless otherwise required by law, a state department shall not procure oversight services” of IT projects without CDT approval – potentially something of a step away from federated IT work.
    “I believe that codifying the requirement for CDT to adopt an oversight modular framework by 2025 will be greatly beneficial to the state’s IT infrastructure,” said Mathis, who indicated he’s aware that CDT “already does some fantastic work,” adding via email: “However, as I have previously discussed, it is absolutely imperative that the state has a more coherent and established protocol of information technology projects that use a modular modernization approach that (replaces) an information technology system through multiple stand-alone components.” The bill may be heard in committee as soon as March 20.
  • AB 1806, which centers on public contracts, IT, CDT and “modular contracting,” would declare the Legislature to find that large-scale IT acquisitions “are best realized using modular contracting” if several factors are present. These include an agency that “shares first, focuses on reusability, and leverages increments” across the enterprise; that “integrated project teams are formed to identify the functional, technical, and other capabilities and characteristics required to make an acquisition deliverable, viable, and useful”; that end users are involved early and throughout development; that teams of the IT project manager and the contracting officer work together, particularly on defining project increments and setting its acquisition strategy; and that agencies are required to set “established cost, schedule, and measurable performance goals” for all major IT acquisitions and achieve “on average, 90 percent of those goals.”
  • The bill defines modular contracting as “a contractual approach that provides for incremental delivery, implementation, and testing of an information technology acquisition by dividing it into discrete increments.” It calls on CDT, using modular contracting, to “simplify management” of large IT acquisitions by breaking them into smaller projects; to address “complex” IT aims incrementally to boost the likelihood of achieving workable solutions; to award contracts for incremental acquisitions within 180 days of a solicitation “to the maximum extent practicable”; and to deliver those increments within 18 months of a contract award.
    “While CDT practices some modular contracting, the state auditor found that they do not utilize it enough for large-scale projects,” Salas said via email of his bill. “AB 1806 will fix this issue and would help ensure that state IT projects are developed by the most cost-efficient, innovative methods.” The bill has been referred to the Assembly committees on Privacy and Consumer Protection and on Accountability and Administrative Review.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.