Senate lawmakers to extend greater power to CIOs

Senate legislators will introduce and markup its version of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) Wednesday, with a focus on giving CIOs full IT budget...

Senate lawmakers will propose major changes to how federal chief information officers oversee IT investments, including giving them full budget authority and approval over all IT contracts.

In their version of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively, will offer an amendment in the nature of a substitute for the House’s version of FITARA at a committee markup Wednesday.

In documents obtained by Federal News Radio, the Senate’s draft version of FITARA would require “the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to require in its annual IT capital planning guidance that the CIO of the agency (I) approve the agency’s information technology budget request; (II) certify that IT investments are implementing incremental development as defined by OMB; and (III) work with the Chief Human Capital Officer to review all IT positions requested in the budget to ensure the needs of the agency are being met.”

Additionally, the draft bill would give CIOs power to review and approve IT contracts or other agreements for technology products or services, and sanction any request to reprogram funds for IT.

The Senate’s draft version, however, doesn’t follow the House’s lead in requiring only one person with the title CIO. But it does give the agency CIO the right to “approve the appointment of any other employee with the title of Chief Information Officer at the agency, or who functions in the capacity of Chief Information Offer, for any component organization within the agency.”

The House passed its version of FITARA in May as part of the Defense Authorization bill.

The House’s version, sponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), differs quite a bit from the Senate’s draft. The House would require agencies to have only one person with the title of CIO. It also would make the CIO the head of the agency’s oversight body for IT investments, but doesn’t give them approval authority.

“The Carper/Coburn amendment is clearly aimed at strengthening the role of the CIO within the federal government, giving CIOs a greater say in how IT funds are spent and how IT personnel are hired,” said Mike Hettinger, TechAmerica’s senior vice president for public policy. “The provisions in this bill go beyond what had been proposed as part of the House passed version of FITARA.”

The House and Senate bills are more aligned around areas such as data center consolidation and the broader use of strategic sourcing.

But otherwise, the two FITARA’s appear to be quite different. The Senate’s 27-page draft bill focuses a lot more on how CIOs and OMB manage projects, and less about acquisition issues.

A Senate committee aide said the Carper-Coburn substitute shares the same goals as the House’s version, but it uses different language and a different approach.

For example, the Senate’s bill would require OMB to ensure agencies make cost, schedule and performance data publicly accessible through the IT Dashboard, and make the CIO responsible for updating the information on the website quarterly, including addressing any risks or data quality issues associated with each investment.

“[T]he agency CIO is required to categorize the investment according to level of risk. The CIO cannot categorize the level of risk as not lower than medium risk for any investment determined by the CIO and program manager to not employ incremental development. The CIO also may not rate an investment at a lower level of risk than either the cost or schedule risk ratings,” the draft bill stated.

Additionally for any investment that is rated as “high risk” for four consecutive quarters, the CIO and OMB must determine why the investment continues to be considered “high risk,” and determine how the CIO and OMB can address those risks, and whether the project is likely to succeed.

“The results of that review are then sent to the relevant Congressional Committees,” the draft bill stated. “If within one year of the date of completion of the above-mentioned review, the investment is still evaluated as high risk, the OMB Director shall deny any request for all future development, modernization, and enhancement funding until such time as the agency CIO certifies that the root causes have been addressed and there exists sufficient capability to deliver on the investment within the planned cost and schedule.”

The Senate has held several hearing over the last six months as part of its effort to create its version of FITARA.

The White House hasn’t been overtly supportive of many of these changes, however, addressing CIO authorities and improving project management oversight are two areas that OMB has issued memos.

Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel said recently that IT reform legislation may not necessarily be needed, but promised to work with Congress to address areas of potential concerns.

If the committee passes FITARA Wednesday, the bill then would go to the full Senate for a vote, or could be attached to the Senate’s version of the Defense Authorization bill. If the bill follows either of those two tracks, the House and Senate would have to work out their differences in conference committee.

“The risk management provisions, requiring quarterly review and certification for major IT investments, to evaluate potential problems, aims to highlight troubled projects early in the development process. These provisions are not dissimilar to the Nunn-McCurdy requirements for Major Defense Acquisition Programs as well as other IT reviews pushed by the administration and we will have to evaluate the potential impact of these provisions on the overall government IT ecosystem,” Hettinger said. “We look forward to working with Chairman Carper, Senator Coburn, Chairman Issa and Rep. Connolly and others to improve the way government buys IT.”


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