FITARA could expand to include IT salaries

Sen. Tom Coburn

Sens. Tom Coburn and Tom Carper told House colleagues that raising the salaries of IT procurement officials would help the government recruit and retain talented professionals.

The sponsor of stalled IT acquisition reform legislation signaled his receptiveness to the idea of expanding the proposal to include more competitive compensation for federal workers responsible for buying technology on behalf of the government.

The suggestion came at a Jan. 9 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that featured testimony from two key senators, Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively.

Coburn said he believed as much as half of the federal government's annual IT expenditure of $82 billion was wasted.

"The problem is we don't know what we want when we go to buy, and we're gamed a lot," he said. He attributed the problem to a culture of federal procurement in which "there are no consequences for non-performance on the part of contractors and no consequences for procurers within the government...if they screw up."

One possible way to fix the problem is to raise the level of expertise of the federal IT procurement workforce by making salaries more competitive with the private sector, Coburn said. He and Carper have backed proposals to raise the pay of some tech workers at the Department of Homeland Security, over which they have direct oversight authority, in order to improve recruitment and retention of the best workers.

"We probably need to do that in a lot of areas in government in terms of IT because that's an area where we can't compete," Coburn said. "To get the quality people to make those decisions, we have to raise the level of salaries."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight committee and author of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, said he was willing to consider adding incentives for tech workers to the larger reform package. FITARA passed the House overwhelmingly as an addition to an early version of the defense spending bill last June but was scrubbed from the final measure in conference. The Senate has yet to hold hearings on the legislation, although it was proposed on the Senate side as an amendment to the defense bill when it came up for a vote in December.

Issa and co-sponsor Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) have said they will continue to push the legislation, which includes giving department-level CIOs budget and hiring authority over agency IT spending and data center consolidation policy, and making changes to the way IT procurement officials are trained.

Carper told the House committee that he, Coburn, and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are committed to moving the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act through the Senate. A version of that bill, which requires government financial data to be published with more transparency and in machine-readable formats, originated in Issa's committee and easily won passage in the House.

Issa and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee's ranking member, told Carper and Coburn that they would pass any bill the Senate could deliver that eliminates or trims a program identified as wasteful or duplicative in Coburn's annual "Wastebook."

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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Reader comments

Fri, Jan 10, 2014

There seems to be be confusion here. Congressman Issa talks of adding incentives for "IT Professionals" however, they don't do the procurement that Senator Coburn is trying to address. Except for small purchases, the acquisition professionals in the Federal Government are the Contract Specialists/Contracting Officers (the 1102 Series)... and they don't have specialties! An 1102 can procure IT or any other product or service... they aren't differentiated by what they procure! They need to clarify what they want to do and who they need to focus on.

Fri, Jan 10, 2014 Guest

Its unclear who (what population of employees) they thinking about paying more...Are we talking about IT Specialists or the Contract Specialists who actually run and manage the procurement process? Wonder how they would plan on administering this pay increase? Not everyone involved in IT procurement does this as a full-time duty assignment, it happens in conjunction with other work assignments...Sounds like it will create more problems than it will solve

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