FITARA Promises Big Changes for Agency IT Investment

Published: January 08, 2014

Acquisition ReformUSDACONGRESSInformation TechnologyIT ReformNASAPolicy and LegislationStrategic Sourcing

Congress is close to passing a piece of legislation called the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, otherwise known as FITARA. If enacted, FITARA could mark a sea change in how agencies invest in and govern information technology goods and services.

Predictions about what’s ahead in federal IT for fiscal 2014 have been appearing regularly in the trade press for the last few weeks.  I’m going to refrain from adding to these prognostications because if I’ve learned anything over the last few years it is that we are living in unpredictable times.  As an example I offer up the fact that Congress is on the verge of passing a bipartisan budget deal.  Who would have thought it possible, even six weeks ago?
The passage of a budget should ease industry’s anxiety a bit in fiscal 2014.  This said there is another piece of legislation under consideration that is worth paying attention to because it has the potential to disrupt the federal IT market this year and for years to come.  This legislation would be the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, otherwise known as FITARA.  FITARA includes the following key provisions and they go way beyond just IT acquisition.
  • The appointment by the President of one department-wide CIO with greater budget authority.
  • The creation of Cloud Computing Working Capital Funds to transition agencies to cloud solutions.
  • Regulations requiring business cases and value analysis to eliminate duplicate contract vehicles and spur strategic sourcing.
  • The development of a Federal Infrastructure and Common Application Collaboration Center to serve as focal point for development and maintenance of IT requirements.
  • A focus on fixed price technical competition with prices published in the solicitation and offerors competing solely on non-price factors.
  • A government-wide inventory of IT assets.
  • A renewed focus on data center consolidation and server utilization
  • The standing up of Assisted Acquisition Centers of Excellence to promote acquisition best practices, specialized expertise in IT acquisition, and to supplement shortages of IT acquisition personnel.
The enactment of FITARA would definitely change the way agencies budget for and acquire IT-related goods and services.  With this in mind it is worth considering how agency IT could be affected if (once?) FITARA is passed.  This was the subject of a recent panel discussion featuring current and former IT officials from the Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the General Services Administration.  The speakers from USDA and NASA in particular were chosen because those agencies have already implemented a good number of FITARA-like policies and approaches.  They therefore serve as examples of what could happen after the legislation goes into effect.
Starting with the USDA, in her response to questions about the steps Agriculture has taken toward greater governance and coordination of IT investment, Joyce Hunter, Deputy CIO for Policy and Planning rattled off a series of achievements.  These include a Portfolio Management initiative that uses monthly TechStat meetings among component CIOs to determine the health of programs before moving forward.  The USDA has also established a governance structure consisting of an Advisory Council that vets proposed investments before sending these on to the CIO Council, and finally the “eBoard” which makes the final determination if the proposed investment can move ahead.
This oversight, Hunter stated, gives the USDA CIO the ability to look at component investments to ensure they are on time and on budget so that the department can avoid OMB and/or GAO scrutiny.  The USDA governance structure also includes CIO performance management goals that hold CIOs accountable for their investments and the performance of those projects.  CIOs are rated twice per year on meeting performance directives and measurements.
The result of this governance, Hunter claims, includes a $43 million reduction in data center hosting fees in 2013 alone, the consolidation of hundreds of mobile phone plans into just three, realizing $12 million in savings over 2012 and 2013, and the consolidation of Tier 1 Help Desk services into the U.S. Forest Service.
NASA’s achievements parallel those of the USDA, according to Lori Parker, Capital Planning Lead for NASA’s Office of the CIO.  Parker noted that NASA initiated PortfolioStat type reviews in 2007 in addition to other governance reforms like the creation of a Business Systems Management Board.  Despite the ongoing struggle to achieve the complete governance success it would like (e.g., spending at NASA centers remains too opaque in the OCIO’s opinion), the agency has been successful enough since 2007 to reduce its overall IT budget from $2.2 billion to $1.44 billion.
So, what does all of this tell us about the potential impact of FITARA?
  • First, it suggests strongly that less IT spending is in the cards.  Duplicative investments and uncoordinated spending across components will be minimized, if not eliminated.
  • Second, increased component coordination should strengthen the drive toward shared services as components identify common requirements and solutions.
  • Third, centralization could foster greater use of cloud computing.  There are other considerations that could also affect this trend (i.e., concerns about data security, cloud performance, etc.), but in theory a centralized IT approach should support movement toward the cloud.
This, then, is my version of a prediction for what’s ahead in fiscal 2014 and beyond.  The enactment of FITARA would mark a sea-change in the way agency IT investments are governed, making federal IT that much more competitive a market.