Panel charts post-FIRMR course

An interagency committee of information technology and procurement officials recommended that the government replace most directives of the Federal Information Resources Management Regulation (FIRMR) with general management and acquisition guidelines as it begins to put into place provisions of the new Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA).

In a recent report to Office of Management and Budget deputy director for management John Koskinen, the FIRMR Transition Committee said many provisions of the FIRMR have been superseded by provisions of the law, while others run counter to its emphasis on giving agencies more flexibility in management and procurement.

The panel would retain some provisions, including those that concern records management, FTS 2000, disposal of obsolete IT equipment, standards and selected procurement rules; however, it suggested that many of these regulations be revised.

Committee co-chairman Frank McDonough, the General Services Administration's deputy associate administrator for IT, said only 10 percent of the FIRMR provisions would be retained.

ITMRA abolished the FIRMR by repealing the Brooks Act, which for 30 years gave GSA authority to oversee IT acquisitions. The FIRMR is a set of regulations agencies were required to follow when purchasing information systems, while a set of FIRMR bulletins offered agencies supplementary advice about the rules.

OMB officials have said they expect still-relevant provisions of the FIRMR to be incorporated into its Circular A-130, which sets out policies for IT management, and into the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). The transition committee, which was convened by OMB and GSA, has made initial suggestions as to how to go about this.

Next, McDonough said, OMB will carry out the recommendations of the Transition Committee with help from GSA. The government has until Aug. 8 to put new policies in place.

While 14 civilian agencies that worked on the report endorsed its final recommendations, the Defense Department objected to the major role GSA would play as the FIRMR is phased out.

Specifically, Emmett Paige Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, said in a letter to the committee that except for records management, FTS 2000 and equipment disposition, "there is no other area that remains under GSA purview."

That includes a suggested role for GSA as a sponsor of education programs for information resources management and procurement officials. Paige's position is contrary to a draft executive order, slated to be issued this month, that would make GSA a clearinghouse for information on developing and buying IT systems. Under the draft executive order, GSA would also conduct "outreach programs" with agencies.

Among its recommendations, the panel would:

* Eliminate most of the introductory, or "general," section of the FIRMR. OMB and agency chief information officers would review definitions of IRM terms in this section and develop a comprehensive set of terms as an appendix to Circular A-130.

* Abolish the section regulating the management and use of IT resources, although parts of this section would be rewritten as guidelines in A-130 or would be revised and incorporated into the FAR or the Federal Property Management Regulation.

* Delete the procurement regulations of the FIRMR. The FAR would be updated to cover IT multiple-award schedules and to incorporate IT-specific standards, contracting practices and definitions of technology-related terms.

The committee also suggested that GSA conduct an independent review of the bulletins to determine whether any of them are still needed.

Under ITMRA, GSA retains its authority to run a mandatory FTS 2000 program, but the panel said there is "ambiguity" as to whether any other agency has the authority to let 10-year telecommunications contracts.

The panel suggested that either GSA should continue its practice of delegating contracting authority for telecommunications and incorporate it into the FAR, or it should seek legislation that gives agencies this authority.

The panel did not suggest that GSA change its policy concerning local telecommunications contracts, pending a decision by the Interagency Management Council, which is reviewing how to buy local telecom services, and OMB.

DOD's Paige, in his letter, said agencies should be given statutory authority to let multiple-year contracts and that there should be no mandatory-for-use or mandatory-for-consideration programs other than FTS 2000.

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