How CIOs can prep for FITARA

Former Justice Department CIO Van Hitch says it's not too early for his former colleagues to get ready to use their new authority.

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Federal CIOs are getting a new slate of authorities with the recently passed Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act. The Office of Management and Budget is developing implementation guidance for federal agencies that is due out in the spring, but former Justice Department CIO Van Hitch says it's not too early for department-level CIOs and their component-level counterparts to begin prepping for life under FITARA.

"It's very easy to look in the legislation and say, OK ... where are there decisions that need to be made within our organization," Hitch said at a briefing for reporters hosted by Deloitte, where he is now an advisor. "Once those guidelines come out, what OMB is going to ask for is a plan," Hitch said.

Component-level CIOs need to develop a clear understanding of how their mission priorities fit in with the goals of the broader agency, Hitch said, while also mapping out how they want to interact with their agency CIO. Across the civilian side of the federal government, component-level CIOs are going to have new reporting relationships with top CIOs. Hitch suggests that component CIOs start thinking about how they can best operate under the new rules of the road.

"I would broach the topic with the agency CIO. I would have an agenda. I would say, 'I know FITARA is coming. Here's the way I see it impacting us. Here's the things we're going to have to change. Here's where I need your help. Here's where I would like you to use me a resource," Hitch said.

The role of the component CIO is changing under FITARA, said Deloitte senior manager Joris Vega. He expects the law will transform the role of the component CIO to be a "trusted advisor" to the top CIO, and an advocate for the most important mission IT systems. Component CIOs should also start thinking about how to build relationships that advance those goals, he said.

Agency level CIOs should plan to drill down into their portfolios to locate opportunities for cost savings across the enterprise, Vega said. While this is something that is already happening at many agencies, FITARA presents an opportunity for a CIO to focus on "specific capabilities that [a CIO] wants to reuse across the agency, and use FITARA authorities to start driving that," Vega said.

In many ways, FITARA reverses the existing directionality of relationship-building among top IT officials in government. Hitch noted that during his nine-year tenure at Justice, his ability to conduct oversight of IT projects at large component agencies was limited by his ability to collect information. "We had no way of knowing what all of them were. We did it on a best-information-available basis," Hitch said. The FITARA authorities change that. While Hitch said that "nothing takes the place of having good relationships," he said that the concentration of CIO authorities "gives you a key platform to build on."

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