FITARA Hurdles Continue for Energy Department

Published: April 27, 2016

Acquisition ReformDigital GovernmentDOEInformation TechnologyIT ReformOMBPolicy and Legislation

The end of April marks the deadline for agencies to provide the Office of Management and Budget with updates of their implementation plans for the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). However, a couple are lagging behind in the process.

Technology investments at the Department of Energy (DOE) have historically tended to be decentralized, due in part to the federated structure of the department’s laboratories. A year ago, those semi-autonomous laboratories sought a contentious exemption to FITARA through legislative amendments, arguing that the nature of their research and development beyond the typical scope of chief information officers (CIO). The move was not well received by some officials. Anne Rung, the administrator of Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), indicated the organization’s willingness to work with agencies to address concerns about implementing FITARA and noted that OMB explicitly stated that it finds proposals to carve out exemptions problematic. Nonetheless, language was included in the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations passed in the December 2015 that asserted that FITARA would not be applied to the Federally Funded Research and Development Centers sponsored by the DOE. The same bill included measures to extend CIO authority associated with FITARA to independent agencies.

That provision to allow for the labs exclusion was not renewed in the Senate’s FY 2017 energy and water development appropriations, which provides funding for the DOE and the national labs. The House version of the bill also lacked any language to exempt the labs from FITARA. While the Senate’s bill would provide funding levels for energy and water development above those requested in the president’s budget, this reflects strong support for defense and information security but decreases for various civilian components. As Federal News Radio reported in early April, however, the DOE has yet to finalize their initial FITARA plans. These plans provide the goals against which most other CFO Act agencies are completing progress reports and updates to common baseline self-assessments, which are expected by OMB by April 30, 2017.  

A statement released by the White House in late April presents objections to the Senate’s proposed FY 2017 appropriations that would result in funding shortfalls for energy related research and development. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), for example, would be looking at $820 million below the requested amount. Similarly, the Office of Science would face discretionary levels $172 million below the request. Spending transparency and digital services are two technology investment areas the statement highlights and urges fully funding. Failure to provide requested FY 2017 funding levels for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement the DATA Act would impede efforts to improve federal spending transparency by updating information systems, adjusting business processes, and introducing standardization to specific areas of procurement. As a recent article from FCW notes, falling back on a continuing resolution for 2017 funding would likely result in the exemptions remaining in place. Once the DOE (and Labor Department, which has also lagged) FITARA plans are finalized, there’s likely to be revisions to assessment grading as OMB and the Government Accountability Office review implementation issues.