Procurement Reform

FITARA passes House in Defense bill

capitol dome

A measure to increase the budget authority of federal CIOs and to change IT procurement was added as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill on June 14. The overall National Defense Authorization Act passed the House by a vote of 315 to 108.

The Federal IT Procurement Reform Act (FITARA), which was co-sponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March, was added to the Defense bill on a voice vote, along with a number of other bipartisan measures. FITARA updates the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, which itself was passed as a section of a Defense authorization bill.

However, the FITARA that is now heading toward become law has been amended in some significant ways since passing committee. Lawmakers removed language that appeared to tip the scales in favor of open source over proprietary software – a change sought by many in industry. The legislation also now calls for the federal IT Dashboard to track “steady state” or operations and maintenance spending, and clarifies that agency CIOs have hiring authority over deputies and associate CIOs at large bureaus and agency components.

The measure puts "real meaning behind the term 'chief information officer,'" Issa said in remarks on the House floor. "Never again will someone have that title and have no budget authority or responsibility. When a program goes right, the chief information officer is responsible. When a program goes awry, it’s his or her job to make it right."

"There are more than 250 identified CIOs in the federal government, yet none possess the necessary authority to effectively manage IT investments," said Connolly in an e-mailed statement. "This has resulted in duplicative and wasteful IT spending, with taxpayers forced to foot the bill for massive IT program failures that ring up staggeringly high costs, but exhibit astonishingly poor performance."

Rep. Darrell Issa

'Never again will someone have that title [CIO] and have no budget authority or responsibility.' -- Rep. Darrell Issa

The bill also pushes the acceleration of cloud computing technology, and tries to reduce duplication in IT contracts by requiring the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to weigh in on the creation of new government-wide contract vehicles. It also adds new rigor to the calculation of savings from data center optimization.

The White House threatened to veto the $638 billion Defense bill in a June 11 policy statement, for reasons wholly unrelated to FITARA. The administration has yet to offer comment on FITARA, but back in January, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel told the House Oversight committee that he already has the authority under the law to accomplish many of the policy goals spelled out in the bill. The Senate has yet to hold hearings on the bill, but the issue of CIO authority was the subject of a recent hearing by the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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