Interim rules replace FIRMR; other guidance planned

The Clinton administration marked the first day of the post-Brooks Act era last Thursday by issuing new regulations to replace the obsolete Federal Information Resources Management Regulation (FIRMR).

The interim rules would carry out portions of the Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA) enacted in February. During the past two weeks the Federal Acquisition Regulation Secretariat the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget have published a variety of rules that also respond to the law and to a companion measure the Federal Acquisition Reform Act.

In general the rules published Aug. 8 add to the FAR parts of the FIRMR that federal IRM officials agreed should be maintained. A completely new section of the FAR which would describe how agencies should develop systems incrementally is still being written.

Meanwhile revisions to OMB Circular A-130 which governs information technology planning and management are pending.Risk ConsiderationUnder the interim rules the FAR for the first time requires agencies to consider risks to their technology acquisitions including threats to schedules technical feasibility budgets and effective management.

The rules hold contracting and program officials jointly responsible for controlling such risks.Ida Ustad GSA's associate administrator for acquisition policy said this new section is "essentially the same as what's in OMB circulars."

But Ella Schiralli director of government relations with the Electronic Industries Association said the rules are "a baseline for discussion."

She added that "more needs to be done to develop policy guidance and really have a document that is informative and educates the contracting community in best practices for procuring IT."

"There is not going to be one place where agencies are going to be able to go" to learn how they should buy information systems said David McClure assistant director for strategic information management with the General Accounting Office.

Procurement and management guidance will be sprinkled throughout the FAR OMB circulars and other documents.

More detailed instructions may take some months to develop he said and OMB is contemplating ways to consolidate the many different sources of procurement information.

"OMB knows agencies are getting overwhelmed " McClure said.New modular contracting regulations which would apply a section of ITMRA that demands agencies build large systems in increments were left out of the interim rule after vendors complained that the language was not specific enough. Contractors said agencies need more instruction as to when modular procurements make sense.

"There was a proposal to essentially copy the statute and stick it in there but people did not feel that was particularly helpful " Ustad said. "At this stage people are still doing some homework to see what might be appropriate."

Other regulations published recently include:* A proposal that would make it easier for commercial vendors to bid on federal contracts by further restricting pricing information that agencies can demand from vendors.* The transfer of FIRMR regulations governing records management tele-communications systems and the disposal of excess IT equipment to the Federal Property Management Regulation.

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