Opinion

FITARA's foundation: data and flexibility

Robert Coen

NITAAC's Robert Coen says that governmentwide acquisition contracts can help agencies get the data they need to comply with new FITARA rules.

By knowing what's spent and where, your agency can become an excellent IT manager. Information makes for smart buyers.

Agency CIOs must be able to open their books and provide the details of IT expenditures under new Office of Management and Budget guidance on the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). The goal is managing IT resources wisely and spending tax dollars strategically. With enough data and appropriately flexible contracts, CIOs can pinpoint problems, adjust their approach to buying IT and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of IT acquisitions.

Consolidated procurements

OMB has emphasized buying IT through consolidated procurement vehicles, particularly indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts, government-wide acquisition contracts or blanket purchase agreements. Most notably, in October, OMB required agencies to buy workstations and laptops through three GWACs -- NITAAC, NASA SEWP and GSA -- because 80 percent of computers meet five standard configurations featured in Government-Wide Strategic Solutions programs. The GWAC route leads to lower prices on products, and lower rates on services because of pre-negotiated prices based on anticipated bulk purchasing.

In addition, GWACs give CIOs, chief acquisition officers and other CXOs the flexibility to adjust to changing market needs and new executive orders. These contract types offer agile acquisition processes that provide agencies with tactical and strategic benefits. Along with lower prices, agencies can award task or delivery orders on time and avoid the tedious full and open competitions. The original competition period can be as little or as long as needed -- 30 days rather than three months, for example. These contracts also give agencies a range of acquisition options, such as fixed price or cost plus award fee, as well as agile or incremental contracting.

To further assist agencies, we at NITAAC let customers add their own terms and conditions to meet any agency- specific needs. It's like having your own contract without the hassle of putting it together. The client remains in control throughout the acquisition process, and the entire process is accomplished online. Moreover, our GWACs allow for maximum flexibility, depending on what IT an agency is purchasing.

Catalog of IT requirements

Every agency uses general IT products, such as laptops and workstations, and they need cloud services in today's IT infrastructures. Yet, each agency has a particular set of IT products and services that best serve them in meeting their mission.

Agencies should consider whether an IDIQ or GWAC can set up a customized catalog of most-purchased products and services that include any unique requirements. Consider it a mail-order catalog just for your agency. The catalog would allow users to pay for those products and services as needed -- not getting stuck with more IT than necessary. In addition, the items in the catalog would be ready and available for fast purchasing.  Agencies can minimize their wait time because the line items' requirements would have been defined beforehand.

Getting laptops and cloud services when needed is a major boost for good IT management.

Data dashboards

One of the pillars of FITARA is data. Instead of letting IT resources get lost in the basement, OMB requires agency executives to give a quarterly account of their IT stock. Executives must show where their money went and what. Furthermore, they must explain their plans to spend any future IT funds and their reasons for making such investments.

The FITARA guidance incorporates agency reporting into existing OMB processes, such as PortfolioStat, the Integrated Data Collection, acquisition human capital planning, and the Federal IT Dashboard.

Dashboards, such as NITAAC's electronic-Government Ordering System, should give clear visibility into an agency's IT procurements. e-GOS captures the spending data and gives line-item detail. And the data is easily available at any time. e-GOS can serve as a database of record, as all files are maintained indefinitely. With enough data, agencies can develop clear spending forecasts.

Under the new guidance, agency CIOs must watch IT costs, schedule and performance while having the ability to buy with agility in preparation for shifts in the market and budget adjustments.

Knowing what you spend and where you spend it, you can meet OMB's FITARA guidance. And just as importantly, you can spend wisely.

About the Author

As the Program Director of The NIH Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC), Robert Coen sets the strategic vision for this NIH GWAC program, which consists of three Government-Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) valued at $50 billion. These contract vehicles – CIO-SP3 and CIO-SP3 Small Business and CIO-CS – enable any Federal Agency to quickly and easily procure information technology (IT) products, services and solutions in support of their agency missions. The goal of the NITAAC program is to be the preeminent “go-to” provider of quality IT products and services to the federal government, enabling agencies to accomplish their missions through the use of innovative government-wide acquisition contracts in an efficient and economical manner.

Mr. Coen directs a staff of 45 employees responsible for all aspects of the NITAAC GWAC Program: contracts administration, IT systems and support, customer service, contract holder relations, program outreach, business development and finance. He has extensive knowledge of federal contracting regulations and the acquisition process, and holds a Level 3 Federal Acquisition Certification (FAC-C) in Contracting from the Federal Acquisition Institute.

Mr. Coen has over 20 years of experience leading innovation in finance, business development and acquisition programs for the federal government. He is a 2012 ACT-IAC Partner, and serves on the Board of Advisors of the Government Information Technology Executive Council (GITEC) and the National Contract Management Association. Mr. Coen earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Massachusetts.


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