Clock ticking on FITARA implementation

Shutterstock image: government access keyboard.

With the 2016 elections and the change in administration looming, the next six months is a crucial period for implementing the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, according to officials charged with implementing and overseeing the new law.

David Powner, director of information management and technology resources issues at the Government Accountability Office, said that agencies could lose a sense of urgency as the clock ticks closer and closer to the election.

"The next six months into June, a lot has to be done," he said.

Powner and other IT and acquisition officials who took part in a Nov. 17 panel discussion on FITARA agreed that momentum is critical to getting the new rules, along with their reporting requirements in place to optimize their effectiveness.  The event was hosted by the Association for Federal Information Resource Management.

With implementation still in the early stages, federal CIOs must play it by ear to some extent when putting FITARA's statutory requirements into practice, said Department of Transportation CIO Richard McKinney said.

McKinney noted that one day after testifying at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on FITARA implementation, he sat down with his agency acquisition officials to tell them he was not going to approve any new IT acquisitions until he could get better data on exactly what IT the agency already had in place.

To their credit, McKinney said, the acquisition officials "got" the importance of understanding what the department has before trying to intelligently add to it. Those kinds of conversations are required if FITARA rules are to be effectively implemented, he said, and they can take some time and finesse.

An element of doubt remains among some agency personnel, however. One federal IT manager in the audience asked the panelists if they "had my back" with the new rules, and if they would ensure the coming political transition wouldn't cause the changes to dribble away or lose their immediacy.

FITARA plans must be implemented by the end of December, GAO's Powner noted. Reports on how those plans were put into effect are expected to follow, and will help keep efforts visible into the spring.

The law also has nearly unanimous bipartisan support in Congress, which works in its favor.

"There was not a sliver of daylight between" the Republican and Democrats that authored the bill and helped push it through and remain in oversight of it, said McKinney.

McKinney also noted that he "didn't feel browbeaten" after his testimony and seeing the subcommittee's FITARA report card which gave many federal agencies failing grades for implementation. He said he instead saw determination by Congress to have an "ongoing conversation" about IT and FITARA. 

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 or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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