OMB’s Scott, Rung partnering to make FITARA’s impact real, lasting

When Tony Scott received the call from the White House to come talk about the federal chief information officer’s job last year, he knew little about what would eventually be one of his most-high profile initiatives: implementing the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).

Scott said now he’s a big fan of FITARA because of the potential change it can bring to IT in the government.

“If you think about nothing else about FITARA, think about good governance and good conversation and pithy conversations that enable the leadership of whatever organization is involved to make the best possible decisions going forward,” Scott said at the CIO Council’s IT Symposium on June 15. “That to me is FITARA in its essence. There’s a number of other things in there as well, but this is probably the key to success from my perspective.”

OMB issued the FITARA implementation guidance on June 5, giving agencies several deadlines to meet over the next six months. Among the two major deadlines focuses on the governance issue Scott talked about. By Aug. 15, agencies must complete a self-assessment against the FITARA memo requirements for expanded CIO authorities over the IT budget planning and acquisitions. Then by Dec. 31, agencies must submit a plan to OMB explaining how they will fill in the gaps between the agency self-assessment and the FITARA baseline.

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“The first thing it does is codifies best practice that we can all look around and see is best practice in any other institution anywhere around the world, and that’s strong engagement of the IT team with the leadership of that organization, whether it’s a business or federal government entity,” Scott said. “Today, technology and business process and government process are so intertwined, that it’s crazy to think about even separating them. So FITARA gives us good guidance in how governance and interaction among senior leaders, in particular in an agency, should exist. And OMB and our role in the E-Gov unit is to look at agency plans and make sure there is a good governance model in place and those right conversations are taking place.”

Scott said he’s confident in the impact FITARA can have on the government for two reasons. The first is because times are different than when Congress passed the Clinger-Cohen Act in 1996.

He said more and more executives recognize IT is integral to everything the government does and success and failure depends on how CIOs and other federal technology managers do their job.

The second reason is the expected consistent oversight by Congress of FITARA’s implementation.

“I welcome that and I think it’s exactly what’s needed,” he said. “What I’ve learned, if nothing else over the years, if all parts of the machine aren’t working, in our case that’s Congress and the executive branch, if they aren’t working, it’s hard to get anything done.”

A third reason that Scott didn’t mention but will impact FITARA’s success is the partnership between his office and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Scott said during his speech that he’s working with Anne Rung, OFPP administrator, to improve how agencies buy technology products and services — another key section of FITARA.

Rung, who also spoke at the CIO Council’s event, said her office will be releasing a series of policies trying to improve agency IT buying habits.

One major area OFPP is focusing on is enterprise software buying.

Rung said an interagency team led by OFPP, the General Services Administration and the Defense Department will develop a strategic plan to increase the number of enterprisewide software agreements across government.

“They also will recommend policy changes to OMB to improve the acquisition management of software and monitoring agency progress. We’re going to use the existing PortfolioStat process to hold agencies accountable for moving forward to these shared solutions,” she said. “You can expect to see guidance later this summer from OMB in the software area.”

The Federal Acquisition Regulation Council will take on a part of that effort as well. Under FITARA, the FAR Council will develop a new rule requiring contracting officers to justify in their contract file as to why they aren’t use an existing governmentwide strategically sourced contract.

“We think this will greatly help us reduce some of the duplication across government,” Rung said.

Another cross-agency team has been looking at computer desktop configurations and they made recommendations to OFPP to move toward a common, more limited set of requirements.

“You will also see OMB guidance coming out later this summer in that area as well,” Rung said.

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