Despite FITARA, CIOs still don’t have an overview of agency IT investments

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Federal agencies still don’t have clear insight into where and how they’re spending IT dollars, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

Reviewing data from fiscal 2016 contracts at 22 agencies, GAO found that most did not properly enumerate all that they’d spent on IT. All together the agencies were able to identify 78,249 IT-related contracts, on which they had spent $14.7 billion. A GAO review, however, found that 31,493 additional contracts worth $4.5 billion were not included in the agencies’ reporting.

The discrepancies between the reported number and GAO’s number differed among agencies. The Department of Education, NASA and the Department of State, for example, were able to identify their IT spend within a close margin (State identified all but 1 percent, the report says). Other agencies, like the departments of Health and Human Services and Transportation, did not do so well. Altogether “8 agencies did not identify over 40 percent of their IT-related contract obligations,” the report states.

One piece of the puzzle leading to this discrepancy? The extent to which an agency CIO is involved in overseeing all IT-related investments.

Despite legislative efforts like the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, the GAO report found that most agencies do not properly follow the guidance that requires CIOs be involved in reviewing IT investments.

An Office of Management and Budget guideline states that it is the job of the chief acquisition officer to identify which acquisitions are IT-related and get approval from the agency CIO on these investments. But the GAO report found that 14 of the 22 selected agencies don’t follow this best practice — often relying on program offices making the acquisition request to identify whether or not it has an IT component.

All this is problematic because of the huge amount spent on IT yearly ($90 billion in fiscal year 2016) and the government’s history of failed tech projects.

“Until agencies ensure that CIOs review and approve IT acquisitions, CIOs will continue to have limited visibility and input into their agencies’ planned IT expenditures and will not be able to use the increased authority that FITARA’s contract approval provision is intended to provide,” the report states. “Further, agencies will likely miss an opportunity to strengthen CIOs’ authority and the oversight of IT acquisitions. As a result, agencies may award IT contracts that are duplicative, wasteful, or poorly conceived.”

CIO control over, and accountability for, IT investments is just one part of FITARA. Other key elements include the data center optimization initiative, which mandates that agencies move toward closing data centers, and a transparency and risk management dashboard. In the biannual FITARA scorecard, which gives agencies a letter grade for their compliance with the 2014 law, most agencies continue to stagnate around a ‘C.’

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Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), Government Accountability Office (GAO)
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