'There's opportunity in FITARA'

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Good IT habits tend to reinforce themselves when federal CIOs and CFOs are on the same page. Now that some of those habits are enshrined in statute and reinforced by guidance from OMB, senior agency officials say the CIO-CFO relationships should grow even tighter.

A panel on C-suite management initiatives at the 2015 CFO-CIO Summit in Washington, D.C., came a day after the Office of Management and Budget released proposed guidance for the implementation of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), the IT reform package signed into law in December 2014.

The law strengthens the hand of agency-level CIOs over their bureau and component CIO colleagues, and also gives the CIO a seat at the table when determining how agencies will deploy IT to run government programs.

The law means CIOs will work more closely with agency CFOs on a number of issues, including technological development, IT acquisition and implementation. Close coordination among chief executive officers, said Department of Homeland Security CIO Luke McCormack, has been part of DHS's everyday routine for some time, making the new FITARA guidelines significantly easier to incorporate.

McCormack said implementing FITARA at DHS was mostly "memorializing" collaborative policies already in place, including close communications at the executive officer level. "At DHS, every morning, the CXOs have a stand-up meeting," he explained. "It's 15 minutes of 'what do you need?' and 'what can I do for you?'"

DHS began a Unity of Effort Program last fall that seeks out common operations and squeezes efficiencies into its routine operations. The process tackles some of the same efficiency issues that FITARA targets.

"FITARA helps," he said. "FITARA puts into law what some of us were already doing."

Implementation at other agencies will be more of an exercise.

The State Department, for example, has hundreds of overseas operations and thousands of workers in the U.S. and abroad, along with the systems to support them all. As a result, said Alaina Teplitz, director of State's Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation, FITARA is a bit more difficult.

"It's challenging to apply to international operations," she said. "Our business model is not really the one envisioned."

FITARA's guidance, said Lee Loftus, assistant attorney general for administration at the Department of Justice, can bring dividends by breaking down internal management silos at an agency. Loftus agreed with Teplitz that implementing guidance across agencies with sprawling operations – DOJ included -- can present problems. Nevertheless, he said the law can help resolve some longstanding issues for large agencies.

"There's opportunity in FITARA," Loftus said. It can be a way to tackle the sometime nagging IT issues at bureau levels that can get skipped over by higher-level management initiatives.

And while OMB left room for agencies to interpret FITARA for their own operations, Loftus urged CIOs to seize the initiative. "Grab it and get the right people in the room," he said. "FITARA could be implemented detrimentally, or positively," depending on an agency's approach, so "put some real planning into your governance model."

The key is to avoid "duplicative, isolated programs," he said, and integrate the governance plan with other managers like the CFO, acquisition and program officials.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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