ACT-IAC teams with OMB on FITARA success framework

Former DHS CIO Richard Spires co-chairs the ACT-IAC FITARA Project team with NRC CIO Darren Ash. (FedScoop)

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The Office of Management and Budget is requiring agencies to submit Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act self-assessments by Aug. 15. But before then, a volunteer group led by a pair of current and former federal chief information officers wants to help OMB evaluate agencies’ standings.

Richard Spires, former chief information officer of the Department of Homeland Security and the IRS, and Darren Ash, CIO of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told FedScoop they’re developing a way to track how well agencies are executing the new law.

“The notion is [we] would give OMB a template by which they can evaluate these implementation plans that are coming in, and we hope that the agencies will also use it as a way to better self-assess where they really are,” Spires, now CEO of Resilient Network System, said of this first phase of the project. “I think it’s difficult for some of the agencies to do that if they haven’t really embraced elements of FITARA in the past.”

With more than 50 volunteers from the public and private sectors, the so-called ACT-IAC FITARA Implementation Project aims to help OMB and federal agencies answer FITARA’s biggest open-ended questions, like “what are the attributes of what goodness looks like, and how does that manifest itself and look within an agency that’s doing it very well?” Spires said.

This isn’t the first time ACT-IAC — a nonprofit, private-public partnership organization dedicated to improving federal information technology — has worked with agencies on massive IT projects. In 2010, the organization helped the Department of Veterans Affairs modernize its health care system, called the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture.

But for the FITARA project, the differences between agencies pose a challenge, Ash said.

“How do we help agencies meet the spirit and intent of the law?” he said. “We know there are best practices … but this is not a check-the-box
exercise, nor should it ever be. We want to help agencies understand … what should we be striving for, recognizing there’s different
types of agencies, different processes.”

The project consists of five teams with different focuses — governance, budget, acquisition, organization and workforce,
and program management — and a steering committee led by Spires and Ash. In the collaborative spirit of FITARA, Spires said that committee is represented by not only former and current federal CIOs but also chief financial officers, chief human capital officers and chief acquisition officers.
Once the ACT-IAC FITARA project group develops its self-assessment guidance, the team will move into phase two and try to gather examples of how agencies are enacting FITARA across government.

Not only would a repository of FITARA-friendly best practices and policies help agencies adhere to the law, but it would give them and OMB a better baseline from which they can measure the success and impact of FITARA.

“I think it goes back to the beginning of what we’re trying
to get to: getting to a common baseline, getting that same level in terms of
processes, maturity, activities, and ultimately results and outcomes,” Ash said.

Spires added, “What we hope to do here is arm these agencies to make these
changes more effectively. There are things that can be brought in from other
agencies that can help.”

Change can be hard, though, he said, and cultural elements can interfere with progress. As a former federal CIO twice over, Spires felt certain agencies were going to struggle with the transition, a major impetus for starting this project in the first place.

“You have a way of doing things, you’ve done it for decades
that way sometimes and now you said we’re going to change this?” Spires said. “That’s hard for
an organization.”
But that’s why the ACT-IAC FITARA project exists, the co-chairs said — to make sure tech executives have access to the tools they need to succeed.

“It’s not just about the guidance,” Spires said. “It’s about agencies
actually implementing and meeting the baseline requirements of FITARA, with the
ultimate objective, of course, to improve IT management and outcomes across the
federal government.”

The co-chairs said there will be a third and final phase of the project involving an independent analysis of agencies, but that hasn’t been fully defined and would likely be at a much later time.

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ACT-IAC, Agencies, Darren Ash, Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), Government IT News, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Regulations & Oversight, Richard Spires
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