FITARA Reallocates Power Over Federal IT Procurement and Management


Archived Published: 19 December 2014 ID: G00273393

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Summary

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act passed the U.S. Congress with the most comprehensive overhaul of government IT in 18 years. Government CIOs should prepare for new authority and responsibilities.

News Analysis

Event

On 12 December 2014, the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).

Analysis

FITARA augments the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act to address concerns about waste and ineffectiveness in federal IT investments. While legislation will not necessarily produce a better balance between rapidly changing opportunities for IT-based efficiency and agility, FITARA's emphasis on central authority and accountability is a move in the right direction.

FITARA seeks economies of scale and the implementation of best practices by mandating:

  • Fewer but more powerful CIOs, giving central CIOs new authority over hiring, project funding and approvals, and the delegation of responsibilities to subagency CIOs

  • IT budget protection, giving civilian agency CIOs authority to prevent the reassignment of IT funds to other programs

  • Agile/incremental development approaches for new systems to be used instead of traditional “specify in detail up front” approaches

  • Annual reviews to reduce IT redundancies and improve costs, schedules and outputs

  • Governmentwide software purchasing to leverage centralized buying power and strategic sourcing

  • Centralized authority over data center consolidation

  • Development of an IT acquisition workforce with expanded access to specialized, highly skilled program and project managers

For systems focused on national defense rather than IT-based back-office efficiency, FITARA specifically constrains the new authority of CIOs:

  • In the Department of Defense, only "business" systems (not war-fighting systems) will require the CIO-controlled portfolio reviews mentioned above; these reviews will be organized under a newly created “Undersecretary of Defense for Business Management and Information.”

  • IT systems of the Military Intelligence Program and National Intelligence Program will also be excluded from the new oversight.

FITARA seeks efficiency (largely through standardization) and agility (largely through incremental development and control delegated in some cases to program leaders rather than CIOs). This approach will raise conflicts between the needs of individual programs and those of the collective enterprise. Responsive governance will be needed to avoid gridlock.

For FITARA to be effective, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must develop compliance procedures that will cost-effectively monitor and manage progress. A passive OMB at this point would do little to drive the reforms FITARA makes possible. Given new authority, CIOs must step up to their new responsibilities.

Recommendations

Agency CIOs:

  • Partner with CFOs to quickly document existing IT systems. This baseline data will be needed to correct 2016 budget requests that may seek to remove programs from CIO oversight.

  • Develop IT governance procedures and skills to prepare for PortfolioStat-like reviews, and to proactively control low-performing programs.

  • Partner with chief human capital officers to enhance IT recruiting and performance management.

  • Prepare to partner with chief data officers, particularly to account for IT spending as Digital Accountability and Transparency Act implementation matures.

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