FITARA: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater
The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) is one of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s major pieces of legislation this year. The bill is designed to bring greater efficiency and technology into the federal acquisition system, and he should be commended for taking on the daunting task of acquisition reform. Originally introduced earlier this year as a standalone bill, FITARA found its way into Division E of the House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and is now awaiting conference with the Senate. But, what’s in it? And why is this piece of legislation so important to the IT industry?
FITARA is not a simple piece of legislation, but it does contain some rather simple provisions that would have an enormous, positive impact on how the government acquires IT.
Enhanced Authorities for the Civilian CIOs
One of the bill’s first provisions is designed to eliminate duplication and waste in the federal IT acquisition process by restoring the authorities of agency Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and consolidating the position at each agency. These changes would help to improve management of IT investment decisions, reduce redundancy, and drive efficiency across federal agencies. In addition, this provision would clarify many of the intended authorities given to CIOs in the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, including the budgetary powers necessary to manage complex, enterprise-wide IT systems across their agencies.
Multi-Year Revolving Funds for IT Investment
The current budget and appropriations cycle, which essentially requires agencies to plan for just one year at a time, does not allow the federal government to keep pace with innovation, but FITARA would allow for a more flexible funding process. When agency CIOs, program managers, and contract specialists have more time to make IT investments, they can better organize, allocate, and innovate around their IT programs.
Data Center Optimization
Data center optimization would be possible with the plans and metrics established in FITARA. The plans would drive efficiency and encourage the wider use of commercial data centers and commercial cloud services. The bill also would eliminate non-optimized data centers owned by the federal government, and subject to appropriations, use the savings achieved to promote other IT capabilities and services at the agencies.
Strengthening the IT Acquisition Workforce
Training and support for the federal workforce is the first step towards better IT buying. FITARA would promote the development of a career path for IT program management and create a five-year strategic plan for agencies to develop, strengthen, and solidify IT acquisition cadres. These specially trained individuals are expected to become experts in facilitating and performing complex IT acquisitions.
Enhanced Communication with Industry
This point could not be made clearer. It is imperative that government and industry work together during a procurement, especially when the government is acquiring something as complex as IT. FITARA would promote federal acquisition personnel to have responsible and constructive dialogues with industry.
Other sections (rather costly sections as projected by CBO) of FITARA are designed to address new mechanisms for IT acquisition, but industry believes that these provisions need more discussion and should be part of a broader dialogue on IT acquisition reform that is now getting underway within the Defense Department and among policymakers on Capitol Hill. That being said, Congress should move forward with those provisions of FITARA where there is industry consensus – together, they represent necessary steps toward a modern acquisition process.
We also welcome important federal acquisition reform measures that have been offered in the Senate as amendments to the Senate version of the FY 14 NDAA. Specifically, we commend Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) for their Federal Technology Savings, Accountability, and Transparency Act of amendment, which would enhance the authorities of the CIO; and Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) amendment on data center consolidation. When the government improves the way it can acquire the latest technologies, we all win, and hopefully these amendments and the other provisions listed above will become law soon.