How FITARA Will Remedy Federal IT Acquisition and Performance

Published: June 17, 2015

Acquisition ReformInformation TechnologyIT ReformOMBPolicy and Legislation

Last week, OMB released final guidance for FITARA implementation. On the same date, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee held a hearing regarding FITARA’s role in reducing IT acquisition risk.

The hearing was to examine GAO’s 2015 designation of IT acquisition as high risk and how FITARA implementation may address this issue.  Additionally, the subcommittee heard details on FITARA implementation plans and their planned impact on IT acquisition reform and security, as well as how agencies will or should be held accountable for IT acquisition outcomes.

The following witnesses testified before the subcommittee:  

  • David Powner, Director IT Management Issues, GAO  
  • Richard Spires, CEO, Resilient Network Systems, Inc.  
  • Tony Scott, US CIO, Office of E-Government and IT, OMB  
  • Anne Rung, Administrator for OFPP, OMB

Scott testified that his four IT objectives were to drive value in federal IT investments, deliver world-class digital services, protect federal IT assets and information, and develop the next generation IT workforce. “FITARA enables the achievement of these objectives by providing agency CIOs with the authorities and visibility needed to manage IT across an agency and by setting the expectation that these CIOs will work in partnership with other agency leaders,” said Scott. 

FITARA also codifies PortfolioStat, TechStat, and federal data center optimization activities which are proving to increase federal IT effectiveness and efficiency.  Scott stated that a strong core foundation is necessary with coordination between CIOs and agency leaders in order for IT projects to be successful. “A core part of my team’s work going forward will be to build this new foundation for effective management of technology through full implementation of FITARA in a way that is workable, collaborative, effective, and consistent,”  stated Scott.  

The backbone of OMB’s implementation guidance is the “Common Baseline,” which provides senior agency officials and CIO roles and responsibilities for the management of IT.  According to Scott, “It creates a foundation for lasting partnerships among CIOs, CXOs, and program leaders to make budget and procurement decisions that best support agency missions.”

GAO’s Powner cited several failed IT projects that were highlighted in GAO’s most recent high risk program report, emphasizing the need for IT acquisition reform and improvement.  GAO is hopeful that FITARA implementation will improve IT project performance.  “The recent IT reform legislation holds promise for improving agencies’ acquisition of IT,” Powner stated before the subcommittee.  He encouraged OMB and federal agencies to “expeditiously” implement FITARA provisions and to also implement GAO’s previous recommendations for high risk IT programs and areas.  Powner also urged continued congressional oversight of OMB and agency implementation efforts. 

OFPP Administrator Anne Rung also stated her support for the new legislation and how it would improve IT procurement and project performance.  “I especially appreciate how FITARA will help address some of the complexity of the federal acquisition system, which often leads to ineffective and inefficient use of taxpayer funds especially in IT contracting,” she said before last week’s subcommittee.  She went on to point out how recent OFPP initiatives to simplify IT acquisition will help advance FITARA, “such as those calling for maximizing the benefits of strategic sourcing, developing government-wide software licenses, and expanding workforce training and the use of IT cadres.”

Spires, former CIO at DHS and IRS, focused his testimony on three critical areas for improving IT acquisition:  

  • Implementing GAO factors for successful IT acquisitions 
  • How to properly implement FITARA in order to have the most positive impact on IT acquisition and operations  
  • How agencies should be measured and held accountable for IT acquisition and operations outcomes  

Spires suggested that the current administration has the opportunity to set a foundation for success by implementing FITARA, “so that when leadership for the next administration arrives, the critical elements of FITARA are already taking root.”   “Yet FITARA, while helpful, is not in of itself going to fix what ails federal IT. We need sustained leadership focus and commitment,” concluded Spires.

FITARA next steps?  By August 15th, agencies are required to complete a self-assessment that identifies current conformity with the Common Baseline, and shall articulate an implementation plan describing the steps they will take to achieve the new CIO authorities.  Common Baseline responsibilities must be implemented by December 31, 2015.