Policy

CIO Scott: IT reform is 'different' this time

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Sweeping IT reform legislation has been tried before, but Federal CIO Tony Scott has high hopes for the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act.

Speaking at the 2015 CIO Council Symposium, Scott invoked the history of past reform efforts, like Clinger-Cohen, and said that FITARA could succeed where they failed.

"I do think this time it's different. I think times have changed and I think more and more people get that information technology is an integral part of everything we do, and success or failure depends on how well we do our jobs, and by implication how well good governance takes shape in any organization," Scott said.

The Obama administration issued guidance on implementing the new law June 10, giving agencies until Aug. 15 to submit IT governance plans to comport with the new CIO authorities and other aspects of the legislation.

Scott credited the key backers of the law, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), with keeping focus on implementation.

"The authors of Clinger-Cohen left Congress shortly after it passed," Scott said. "The authors of this act aren't going anywhere anytime soon, they tell me. And they intend to be mindful watchers of how well we implement and what we do," he said.

Scott urged the audience of federal IT workers to think of FITARA primarily as a governance tool. "Technology and business process and government process are so intertwined that it's crazy to think about separating them," Scott said. FITARA, he said, gives structure to the interaction between IT leaders and senior leaders at an agency. It also codifies a number of administration initiatives dating back to the 25-point plan to improve federal IT under then-CIO Vivek Kundra.

But Scott still sees hurdles that are cultural, and not necessary subject to legislation.

"What I do see is a culture and set of soft rules that make it very hard for all of us to do our work every day. Some aren't actually law. Some of them are just norms that have developed in organizations or responses to roadblocks or issues of the past. So one of the exciting things that I'm dedicated to as a part of my tenure here is to help figure out how we can make IT in the federal government faster and more effective and more responsive to our time, and blow up some of the crazy stuff that all of us run into every single day," Scott said.

One factor driving IT reform that Scott alluded to is buy-in at the very top. In an interview with Fast Company about the growing U.S Digital Service program housed at the Office of Management and Budget, President Barack Obama discussed how plans to address shortcomings in federal IT management fell by the wayside in the midst of other priorities.

"With all the crises we were dealing with -- the economy collapsing, the auto industry on the verge of collapse, winding down wars -- this did not get the kind of laser-focused attention until HealthCare.gov, which was a well-documented disaster, but ended up anyways being the catalyst for us saying, 'OK, we have to completely revamp how we do things.'" Obama told the magazine.

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 and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

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


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Reader comments

Tue, Jun 16, 2015 Rob Sterling, VA

One of the major issues that I see with the new plan, as with plans in the past, is that the financial decision makers and the functional decision makers are separate. When talking with the functional experts about a product, we not only have to get their buy-in on the functionality of the product, but also figure out how to make them advocates when they approach the financial decision makers to get their request on the list and in a high enough priority to get it purchased. The financial decision makers are not only overwhelmed with requests, but aren't necessarily knowledgeable about the functionality of the request or the requesting agent. They also, generally, do not have the resources to determine if the request can be accomplished by another means, can be integrated into an overall plan, the agencies overall systems, etc. I believe that a more coordinated effort, similar to the 'OneUSDA' effort, is going to be required and one that is very neutral and broader in its focus.

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