FITARA: A good start, but still unfinished business

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The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act is on its way to the Senate floor after passing the House for the fourth time as a part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The momentum generated by the bill has some advocates hopeful it could act as a harbinger of further IT reform.

“The last real time we delved into [IT reform] was the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, so it’s been almost two decades,” Alan McQuinn, a research assistant at the Information Technology Innovation Foundation told FedScoop. “Obviously, the federal government and its ability to keep up with innovation has been lagging miserably behind. It’s definitely a first step, and that’s what it is, it’s a first solid step forward.”

Mike Hettinger, the former senior vice president for federal and public sector at TechAmerica, told FedScoop that the version in the NDAA is enhanced and scaled back in certain areas compared to the original early-2013 draft. However, the two major provisions regarding CIO authorities and data center consolidation from the original bill did make the final cut.

“At the end of the day, the data center provisions and the CIO authority were things that immediately, when the first draft of the legislation came out years ago, industry looked at and said ‘yeah, these are things that make sense and that we want,'” Hettinger said. “It was good to see those provisions included.”

According to Hettinger, the data center provisions build on the White House Office of Management and Budget’s 2010 Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative. Through its inclusion in the legislation, the initiative would be codified into law and last even after the current administration is out of office.

“[As executive branch actions], a lot of these things have the potential to go away,” Hettinger said. “So the data center consolidation stuff got on the right path and will make sure that [CIOs] have the authority and the mindset to do it beyond the Obama administration.”

Brocade’s Vice President of Federal, Anthony Robbins, told FedScoop that FITARA would open the door for better and stronger CIO leadership, and a more enhanced IT acquisition and procurement process.

“For the value to be extracted from the law as it gets passed, it’s going to require leadership and change management,” Robbins said. “The government is a big apparatus. Just because we pass it into law doesn’t mean that the next day all the leadership is in place and all the processes are in place and the change management agenda is known. We want to make sure the system doesn’t move slower as all these things try to get integrated into the different agencies.”

McQuinn agreed, and noted that Congress’ work is not yet finished when it comes to IT reform.

“It’s a good first step, but Congress should go beyond simply passing this,” McQuinn said. “It should start to reform our outdated ways that we hand out federal IT procurement, how they’re rewarded and give federal agencies more flexibility with purchasing software and giving out contracts.”

In the latest draft of FITARA, provisions are included for a governmentwide software licensing program — something McQuinn said could potentially make procurement and acquisition more difficult.

“The more rigid the federal government is with handing out these contracts, the less it is able to adapt in the future,” McQuinn said. “Establishing vast governmentwide standards can sometimes hurt federal agencies abilities to adapt to the future and adapt to innovation.”

Hettinger said, however, that the new momentum behind the bill and the unfinished areas of procurement, governmentwide software acquisition and strategic sourcing could actually inspire more work early on in the next Congress.

“Given the changes of leadership and everything else, and the new energy behind this, [the new Congress] will take a look at what was enacted and see what they have to do next to get federal IT to the next level,” Hettinger said. “So I imagine some of this stuff will get a second hearing and we’ll continue the discussion.”

First introduced by Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in early 2013, the bill was designed to re-evaluate the more than $80 billion the federal government spends on IT per year through more oversight and enhanced budget authority. Now, as the bill moves closer to the president’s desk, lawmakers are celebrating the bicameral and bipartisan consensus.

“As technology changes, chief information officers were previously prevented from adopting new technologies, and often the American taxpayer missed out on more cost-effective options,” Issa said in a statement. “FITARA fixes this crisis of leadership and ensures that the contracting standard is modernized to handle a changed tech landscape.”

In a statement to FedScoop, Connolly said FITARA would be the first part of moving away from the status quo of federal IT management, while increasing the transparency of the entire process.

“FITARA will be a critical first step toward ending this unacceptable and unsustainable status quo,” Connolly said. “FITARA will also enhance transparency of IT investment performance and strengthen an IT portfolio management initiative that the Office of Management and Budget estimates has the potential to save taxpayers $2.53 billion through fiscal year 2015.”

But representatives from industry, government and think tanks said it’s clear that FITARA could be just the first step toward bringing federal IT processes to the level of the private sector.

“This is a five- or 10-year odyssey that we’re talking about,” Robbins said. “A lot of work has to be done here. The proof [of success] will be in the leadership and the ability to drive the change management agenda.”

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Acquisition, Agencies, Alan McQuinn, Anthony Robbins, Archives, Congress, Darrell Issa, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Justice (DOJ), Departments, Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), General Services Administration (GSA), Gerry Connolly, Government IT News, House of Representatives, Innovation, legislation, Mike Hettinger, policy, Senate, White House
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