FITARA – Fed CIOs Get Different Authorities in House and Senate Versions

Published: July 02, 2014

Acquisition ReformCONGRESSInformation TechnologyIT ReformNational Defense Authorization ActPolicy and Legislation

Congress’ efforts to bring federal IT reform to fruition got a boost recently when a key Senate committee approved its version of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). But like most legislation, there are key differences between the House and Senate versions that will need to be ironed out if the bill is to reach final passage. Many of these relate to the authority of an agency’s Chief Information Officer, or CIO.

In May, the House passed its version of FITARA as part of their Defense Authorization bill. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee recently passed their own substitute version of FITARA. As news of the Senate substitute came to light, so did several differences between the two bills.

Key Differences Between the Senate and House Versions

  • CIO Position – The House version requires a single agency/departmental CIO, with any sub-agencies or bureaus limited to appointing a Deputy, Assistant, or Associate CIO. The Senate would allow a departmental CIO the right to "approve the appointment of any other employee with the title of Chief Information Officer at the agency, or who functions in the capacity of Chief Information Offer, for any component organization within the agency."

  • Approval Authorities – Both versions give greater clout to the agency CIO regarding IT budget. The House version would give the CIO the authority to participate in decisions regarding the IT budget planning process and authority over how those funds are allocated across project. The Senate version would empower the CIO of the agency to approve the agency's IT budget request. In addition, the Senate would give CIOs the power to review and approve IT contracts or other agreements for technology products or services as well as approve any reprograming of IT funds. The House version does not provide the approval authorities.

  • IT Workforce – In the House version the CIO would have the authority to approve the hiring of IT personnel while the Senate version would direct the CIO to “work with the Chief Human Capital Officer to review all IT positions requested in the budget to ensure the needs of the agency are being met."

  • Data Centers, Cloud Computing, etc. – In addition to differences in CIO powers, the Senate version lacks many of the more detailed provisions around the areas of data center optimization and consolidation, web site consolidation, transition to cloud computing and IT contract consolidation that exist within the House version. Yet, both bills press for more IT portfolio management and risk mitigation.

The distinctions between the two bills do not stop here and that presents further challenges to bringing FITARA to a final reality. If the Senate attaches their version to their overall NDAA then FITARA will be part of the NDAA reconciliation process. Further, the current Senate NDAA includes provisions that overlap with the Senate FITARA bill and these will need to be worked through. If FITARA survives the process it would be the first major change to the role of CIOs since its creation under the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act.