Strengthening FITARA and CIO Authorities Could Improve Federal IT

Published: April 13, 2017

Acquisition ReformGAOGovernment PerformanceInformation TechnologyIT ReformPolicy and Legislation

A forum convened and moderated by GAO in September offers insights into opportunities to improve federal IT acquisition and operations.

This week GAO published the findings of an IT forum they held in the fall to discuss ways to improve federal IT management and acquisition.  The ideas offered are meant to better inform Congress, policy makers and other government leaders.

The federal government spends more than $80B year on information technology.  However, these expenditures have in many cases led to failed projects with multimillion dollar cost overruns, major schedule delays, and “questionable mission-related achievements.” Recently GAO added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations to its list of high-risk areas. Additionally, GAO has made over 800 recommendations for improving IT management and acquisition since 2010, but only 46% of these have been fully implemented. 

Congress enacted FITARA in December 2014 to reform IT acquisition, which has produced improvements, but more needs to be done.  In light of this, GAO assembled a panel of IT experts “to elicit additional ideas to further improve delivery and operations of IT.”

The forum panel of 13 consisted of current and former federal agency CIOs, members of Congress, and private sector IT executives. The participants were selected to represent a range of viewpoints and backgrounds related to federal IT acquisition and operations.  

The panel identified the following areas and related actions necessary to improve federal IT operations and delivery:

  • Strengthening FITARA
  • Improving CIO authorities
  • Budget formulation
  • Governance
  • Workforce
  • Operations
  • Transition planning

To strengthen FITARA’s impact, the forum suggested congressional oversight could be more aggressive, OMB may need to strengthen its role, and DoD should be required to implement FITARA.

To improve CIO authorities, the expert panel recommended involving the CIO Council to enhance authorities, evolving the CIO role to enable change, implementing collaborative governance, and focusing on cybersecurity to change cultures.

To improve budget formulation, the forum suggested using IT spending plans, examining agency programs to capture additional spending, simplifying the definition of IT, working more closely with procurement organizations, and working with congressional committees to explore budgeting flexibilities.

Workforce improvements could be made by attracting more qualified CIOs, having the federal CIO play a more active role in attracting agency CIOs, giving CIOs more human resources flexibility, and better integrating private sector talent into the IT workforce.

IT operations improvements could be made by using a strategic approach for legacy system migration, migrating more services to the cloud, and implementing strategies to mitigate the impact on jobs when closing data centers.

To improve transition planning, the forum suggested conveying IT and cyber issues early to leadership, encouraging Congress to focus on IT and cyber at confirmation hearings, ensuring that IT and cyber issues are OMB priorities, and ensuring GAO plays a role highlighting its work and expertise.

GAO plans to send copies of the report to appropriate congressional committees and interested parties.