Scott: FITARA marks sea change for IT

Federal CIO Tony Scott also asserted that more IT spending is needed: "You can't save your way to success."

Tony Scott  (Photo: VMware)

Federal CIO Tony Scott said he would like to see a 50-50 split on spending for legacy vs. new technology.

As the first deadline for agencies to file compliance plans for the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act looms, federal CIO Tony Scott said the new rules are meant to be not just more compliance drudgery, but a new way for agencies to manage quick-moving technology.

By Aug. 15, agencies must complete a self-assessment against the FITARA memo requirements, as well as provide plans for implementation and how their CIOs will assign IT responsibilities.

After his formal remarks at an Aug. 11 conference on FITARA in Washington, D.C., Scott told reporters he expects the initial round of FITARA filings will include agencies’ plans of action for IT; define how the CIO will work within the agency’s structure with the chief financial officer, the chief accounting officer, the chief human capital officer and others, to serve the overall mission.

Another round of filings is due by Dec. 31, when agencies are required to submit a plan to OMB explaining how they will fill in the gaps between the agency self-assessment and the FITARA baseline.

Scott said FITARA and the upcoming filings will mark a sea change in how the federal government addresses IT in an era of stagnant budgets that can limit new initiatives and slow implementations. The law also marks a turn from an inward-directed federal approach to IT to a more transparent and efficient customer and agency mission-oriented one, he asserted.

That will manifest itself in better acquisition and deployment of new technology and erode the reliance on legacy IT, according to Scott, who said such systems now account for 80 percent of the federal IT budget.

Only 20 percent is going to new programs or technologies, in large part because IT managers find it necessary to maintain aging systems just to keep their heads above day-to-day operational water, Scott said. A more ideal mix, he said, would be 60/40, or even 50/50, as is the case with some private-sector tech companies.

“You can’t save your way to success,” he said. Building a more effective, efficient technology base in the federal government, he added, takes spending or, as he called it, investment.

Misdirected frustration

And some agency officials have wondered if the new rules would reduce the number of CIOs in federal agencies. Scott didn’t agree with that assessment.

As FITARA takes hold and makes IT management more efficient, “you also can’t fire your way to success,” he added.

He backed that thought with full-throated support of Office of Personnel Management CIO Donna Seymour. Some in Congress have called for Seymour to step down in the wake of the massive data breaches that affected millions of federal employees. Scott called that idea “wrong.”

“If you look at the pace of change they’re [Seymour and her IT team] driving at OPM and look closely, they’re doing a pretty darn good job. They’ve taken it seriously. I don’t think this is a case where we can fire our way to the top,” he said.

“I get you need to hold folks accountable and all of that, but what I’m telling you is the people that are responsible left a long, long time ago.” Firing Seymour, he said, “sends a wrong signal to anyone else that might be considering entering the federal government to help on this very important problem. I understand everyone’s frustration and anger. … It’s misdirected, though.”

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