Buzz of the Week: Unfinished business in Congress

The unfolding financial crisis overshadows everything else happening on Capitol Hill. Nonetheless, leaders of the federal information technology community are anxiously waiting to see whether several key bills will make it into law or fall through the cracks at the end of the congressional session.

The E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007 certainly looked like a done deal. Despite all the competing priorities, administration and congressional sources were confident that the bill would pass before the fiscal year wrapped up and Congress left town. But it didn’t prove to be that easy, as explained in our lead news story.

Last week’s events also could undermine another measure: the 2008 Federal Information Security Management Act. This bill is widely viewed as an important corrective measure for the original FISMA provisions, which were passed as part of the near defunct E-Government Act of 2002. Without the reauthorization bill, the new FISMA bill, in its current form, would be worthless.

Also in the wings is the 2008 Information Technology Oversight Enhancement and Waste Prevention Act. This bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), would require agencies to report regularly to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget on the status of major IT programs. In theory, such reports would make it easier for officials to identify potential problems before too much money is spent.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, cleared an important obstacle last week when it was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. However, its fate in the full Senate remains uncertain.

In some ways, there is nothing new here. Each year, any number of bills nearly pass but ultimately fall short before Congress adjourns. But the stakes are higher this year. The bills themselves are substantial, addressing significant issues in the federal IT community. And the next Congress will be working with a new administration, so the new year could bring a dramatic shift in priorities.

All we can say at this point is, stay tuned.

BUZZ CONTENDERS

#2: FBI CIO to leave brains behind
OK, not really. But Zalmai Azmi, the FBI’s chief information officer who has directed the bureau’s massive information technology upgrade projects for almost five years, plans to retire Oct. 17.

But one of the last projects he made sure to put in place before stepping down is Bureaupedia, a knowledge management wiki intended to help current and future FBI employees benefit from the wisdom of their predecessors.

We hope Azmi will contribute significantly to the knowledge store.

#3: Way to buy, FBI
Speaking of the FBI, the Government Accountability Office has kind words for the agency’s Sentinel investigative case management system. GAO reported last week that the bureau has successfully implemented five key practices in acquiring commercial information technology systems. 

That has allowed the bureau to do a good job of procuring what it needs for Sentinel, despite some missing elements in its procurement policies, according to the GAO.

More generally, the FBI’s procurement policies need some improvements, GAO found. It advises the bureau to add guidance for analyzing the trade-offs it makes in buying commercial products, analyzing its dependence on commercial products and on modifying commercial products and integrating them with older systems.

All good advice, we think.

#4: From OMB and here to help
Agencies have reported their technical plans for compliance with the Federal Desktop Core Configuration standards to the Office of Management and Budget, and the agency will check their progress in November and December.

OMB and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology have provided software called Security Content Automation Protocol to agencies to aid them in scanning and validating the security settings they had put in place as part of the FDCC implementation. But because the tools are new, OMB wants to ensure agencies are using them effectively, said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and information technology.

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