Statistics show the Federal Government continues to spend more than $80 billion each year on general purpose information technology assets. With a budget that big, effective and efficient use of funds is essential. The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) was made law in 2014 with the primary goal of improving acquisition processes and performance. The aim is to enhance government capability to serve citizens, through more effective management of IT assets and increased innovation in Federal technology programs. With the implementation now complete, on April 30, 2017 (and every April after) agencies must conduct annual reviews and update self-assessments.
More Decision-making Power in Fewer CIO Hands
FITARA has been noted as the “first major overhaul of Federal Information Technology (IT) in almost 20 years.” Under FITARA, the concentration of power is among a smaller number of central CIOs and they are chartered with bringing about the benefits of the Act. FITARA mandates that Agency CIOs:
- Have authority to approve IT Acquisitions
- Must approve the annual IT budget
- Participate fully in IT governance initiatives and processes
- Encouraged to bring about incremental (agile) development
- Encouraged (required) to use Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiatives (FSSI), or be able to justify other choices
CIOs approvals will extend into hiring and possible delegation of responsibility to subagency CIOs. These are just some of the positive outcomes of FITARA and the move to improve IT acquisition and performance. Other positive results include:
- Protection of IT budgets, empowering civilian agency (but not the Department of Defense) CIOs to block the transfer of IT funds to other programs
- Replacement (at least partially) of traditional “specify everything up front” approaches by agile acquisition
- Elimination of IT waste and enhance outputs (improve schedules, revise costs) through annual reviews
- Centralized authority over the consolidation of data centers
- Development of IT acquisition human resources, drawing on specialized, skilled program and project managers
Getting to Grips with Cost and Commodity IT
The opportunities for agency and IT organizations because of FITARA are multiple. IT cost reduction by leveraging government buying power is one example, as is the improvement of coordination between IT and procurement. IT organizations will be better equipped to deal with the acquisition of “commodity” IT, with access to coordinated IT acquisition best practices. Commodity IT, consisting of standard, lower-cost IT components, is part of commonly-used IT infrastructure and applications, such as e-mail, content management systems, web infrastructure, business applications and convergent/hyperconvergent architectures.
IT Governance, Acquisition Strategy and Development
Even with all the potential benefits, agencies must navigate FITARA correctly to maximize outcomes. Focus should be put in the following three areas:
- IT governance and the process for approving IT projects. A documented IT governance/ Capital Planning Investment and Control (CPIC) process will be used for projects to be formally approved and their funding documented. Responsive governance is the key to avoiding or resolving conflicts between individual and enterprise-wide programs when differences arise in the levels of agility and standardization.
- IT acquisition strategy defined for sourcing. An Acquisition Strategy (AS) document will describe the approach for acquiring goods and services for an IT program or project. Expenditure thresholds for AS documents and reviews are based on the average value of such goods and services acquired over a given period (for instance, one year or five years).
- IT development and the methodology and metrics used to measure progress and results. To achieve this, GAO-12-681 or “Software Development: Effective Practices and Federal Challenges in Applying Agile Methods”, published in 2012, offers guidelines. So does the TechFAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) Handbook for Procuring Digital Services Using Agile Processes (2014).
IT Working with Finance, HR and Data Officer
Even with the centralized decision-making authority, CIOs need to work closely with others outside of IT to ensure success. Recommendations for agency CIOs are to:
- Work with Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) to rapidly document current IT systems. This information will provide baseline data necessary to adjust budget requests for the coming year concerning programs to be removed from CIO oversight.
- Work with Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) to improve processes and outcomes of IT recruitment and performance management.
- Be ready to work with chief data officers, specifically for the accounting of IT spend in the context of the implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.
Within IT, CIOs need to develop IT governance to conduct PortfolioStat-like reviews (data-driven portfolio reviews to decrease duplication and costs), and proactively intervene in programs offering low returns.
Providers Will Need CIO-Level Contacts and Business Understanding
Finally, vendors and service providers will be affected by the changes in the Federal IT acquisition landscape, too. CIO approval will be required before funds can be committed and agreements signed, although program managers and end users will remain primary stakeholders in acquisitions. IT contract and program changes must transit via the CIO. Agency business needs and strategies will become an even more important part of the discussions, to ensure a clear correspondence between goods and services being proposed and the business benefits for the agency concern