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FITARA's Effect on Federal Technology

MeriTalk’s FITARA Forum offered a closer look at the act’s implementation just days before its first major deadline arrives.

Improving government technology has been a continuously challenging task, and June’s Office of Personnel Management breaches emphatically highlighted the need to improve that technology.

That month, the Office of Management and Budget issued its final guidelines for the implementation of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, the most extensive IT revamp in close to 20 years. On Aug. 11, MeriTalk hosted its FITARA Forum to help federal agencies better understand what OMB expects of them as the Aug. 15 deadline for FITARA self-assessment action plans approaches.

The federal government spends $80 billion annually on technology, according to a Meritalk news release, and FITARA was created to target federal IT inefficiencies and improve overall efficiency by diminishing duplicative systems, creating better investment decisions and enhancing communication and transparency. When asked how FITARA differs from 1996’s Clinger-Cohen Act, OMB's Jamie Berryhill, Malissa Levesque and Ben Sweezy said FITARA is more specific and requires federal CIOs to act — a change Federal CIO Tony Scott embraces.

Referring to FITARA as an opportunity to “seize the moment,” Scott explained that it would force the CIO's role to evolve. “The future CIO must be more balanced [in terms of focus],” he said.

Scott also mentioned four goals OMB wants agencies to achieve through FITARA. First, they should pinpoint opportunities for change at the inception of the reform process. Second, they must outline specific and believable plans to implement those changes. Third, the plans must address the relationships among CIOs, CFOs, CHCOs and CAOs. Lastly, the deeper relationships that CIOs have with their organizations should be included in these plans.

This is on par with data from MeriTalk’s FITARA From the Frontlines study, which showed that 84 percent of federal IT executives are confident that empowering CIOs will boost visibility within agencies. However, the swift change that FITARA represents has resulted in hesitation.

Because updating government technology has gone so slowly, obstacles to FITARA were expected. The MeriTalk study revealed that just 39 percent of respondents knew their agency had a group in place to oversee its rollout, while a mere 22 percent felt their agency had adequate resources to complete the task. Lack of dedicated staff and resources inhibit modernization, which Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) — who was present to lend the Hill’s insight on the topic — emphasized as FITARA’s purpose.

“Investments have a return on them,” Connolly said. “If there’s an area with a huge return, it’s technology.”

Optimism about what FITARA can accomplish and the clarity of FITARA's mission override trepidation. Dave Powner, the director of Information Technology Management Issues for the Government Accountability Office, issued a reminder about its aim: “FITARA is not about compliance, it’s about rooting out inefficiencies.”

Powner’s point should be a major takeaway from the forum. So as agencies prepare to meet this weekend’s deadline for plans and ready the Common Baseline practices and responsibilities they’re expected to have in place by Dec. 31, refinement for the greater good should remain the focal point.

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Aug 12 2015

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