Connolly, Meadows: We're on your side with FITARA
Agencies are still smarting from their grades on the recent report card for Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act implementation, but two legislators who issued the Ds and Fs stressed that FITARA is on track to be a collaborative and constructive change for federal IT.
"If we focus too much on those grades right now, we miss the point," Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said on Dec. 9. "It's that we collect that data, that we have a good starting point."
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) agreed. When legislators huddled with Government Accountability Office IT experts to discuss the grading process, he said, "there was no toxicity.... Nobody was trying to score points."
He added that "we don't want [the grades] to be used as a scarlet letter to shame somebody or to discredit an agency."
Connolly was the lead Democrat in pushing FITARA through Congress and is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Government Operations Subcommittee. Meadows chairs that panel and, along with Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), has succeeded Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as a GOP point man on FITARA implementation and oversight.
Meadows and Connolly, who made their comments at MeriTalk's FITARA Forum in Washington, stressed that Congress remains focused on ensuring that the legislation's reforms get real traction.
Connolly noted that when the Clinger-Cohen Act -- the last major effort to legislate IT reform -- became law in 1996, the bill's two principal authors "promptly left Congress...and the oversight sort of went sideways."
With FITARA, he said, "we're still here.... And we've got a consensus that we need to do this together."
That "we," he noted, referred not just to Democrats and Republicans in Congress but to federal agency managers.
There are still pockets of resistance, Meadows said. Some agency executives are saying, "We're not going to empower our CIOs. We're going to continue to do things the way we've always done [them]."
But "in a bipartisan way," he promised, "we will push back on that very hard."
Connolly noted that FITARA was crafted with an eye toward letting agencies play an active role in shaping what constitutes smart implementation. He cited the decision to back away from requiring that each agency have just one CIO as an example of legislators listening to agency IT leaders' ideas and concerns.
The law was deliberately not prescriptive, he said. "It exhorted, it incentivized, it encouraged, but it didn't try to make arbitrary milestones."
Furthermore, "we'll work with you as partners because we are committed to this piece working," Connolly said.
Signs of that collaboration are already visible. Commerce Department CIO Steve Cooper, who spoke at the same event, said he and other agency CIOs are already talking to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget about the best ways to measure progress on FITARA implementation.
"What we're hearing is...there will most likely be a FITARA scorecard that's used to grade all agencies," Cooper said. "It's not likely to be this scorecard," he said, but rather one that's agreed on by both OMB and Congress.
Meadows asked federal employees in the audience to "redouble your efforts...to help us make better decisions." Legislators want CIOs' input to "help us figure out those areas that are of highest priorities," and he stressed that he and Connolly "are very, very willing to engage in a personal way" on tuning the implementation and oversight process.
Connolly echoed that request. "We have a consensus like you have in almost no other arena," he said. "You don't have that very often in this town -- on anything. So let's take advantage of it."
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN, as well as General Manager of Public Sector 360.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.