The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would grant federal chief information officers new powers over IT budgets and staffing decisions and reform federal IT spending.
The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act has passed the House three times, most recently as a part of the 2015 Defense Authorization Bill. Although the committee considered the version of FITARA that passed the House in February as H.R. 1232, lawmakers adopted an amendment, penned by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and cosponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., that replaced the base text of the bill.
The amended version of FITARA would empower the CIOs of the government’s 24 key agencies to be the leaders responsible and accountable for how agencies acquire and manage IT systems and programs, Carper said.
“There have been few changes to the position of agency chief information officer since it was first created in 1996 in the Clinger-Cohen Act,” Carper said. “Many departments continue to manage their information technology programs in a decentralized manner with authority spread throughout components and programs. As a result, most departments are unable to take an enterprisewide view of their information technology programs and investments, and too often this results in duplication and waste and poor outcomes.”
The bill would also codify into law the governmentwide IT dashboard, which allows the public to view performance metrics for all major federal IT programs. The inclusion of the dashboard in the bill came at the recommendation of the Government Accountability Office, which testified that the dashboard has repeatedly been a tool to increase transparency and performance.
The Office of Management and Budget’s PortfolioStat initiative, which attempts to cut down on IT duplication across agencies, would also be codified.
Coburn’s amendment also included language originally in the 2013 Federal Data Center Consolidation Act, designed to cut down on the total number of data centers across the federal government.
“[The amendment to FITARA] will keep agencies moving in the right direction,” Coburn said. “The centerpiece of the amendment would be S. 1611, a bill requiring the consolidation of numerous and costly data centers, which has already passed this committee once. It builds on their consolidation, it’ll save billions of dollars and has come out of this committee last year.”
According to Coburn, almost half of the federal dollars spent on IT last year were wasted on failed initiatives. The amendment will help to cut down on that waste, he said.
“Last year, we spent $84 billion on IT, $40 billion of it was down the drain. Pure waste,” Coburn said. “This is a problem that has to be remedied.”
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., agreed that something needed to be done regarding federal IT, but did not agree with the Carper-Coburn amendment’s direction. Instead, Levin awaits action on the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which would combine the positions of deputy chief management officer and the CIO into a more powerful CMO position.
“I will withhold voting on this at this time with the open expectation that we can work out where the inconsistencies are to achieve this same result,” Levin said. “I just wanted to lay out what the problem was and identify a path forward, which I think will result in this bill being tinkered with a little bit so we can get it adopted consistent with what we’ve done at the Armed Services Committee.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a co-sponsor of the FITARA bill that passed the House, tweeted his support for the modified version that went to the Senate floor.