Management

DOJ, DHS grapple with FITARA

Shutterstock image: digital technology.

The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, the sweeping overhaul of how the government buys IT, has been law for over a year, but agencies are very much still adapting to its implications. FITARA implementation documents posted by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security offer a window into how those big agencies are grappling with a law designed to empower CIOs.

All large federal agencies subject to FITARA were on the hook to supply written plans for implementing the law. The Office of Management and Budget had asked that all documents be filed and published by the close of 2015. But with a few exceptions, these documents have been consigned to obscure corners of agency websites.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in November released largely unfavorable grades for agencies' implementation of FITARA. The Department of Justice received a D grade while Homeland Security got a C. Now Justice and DHS are having their say, in their own little-noticed self-appraisals.

Justice plans to publish four policy memos to better adhere to an OMB common baseline for FITARA implementation: one on choosing bureau CIOs, a second on TechStat reporting (an accountability review of IT investments), another for CIO review of IT acquisitions, and a fourth on assessing bureau CIOs' performance.  The department will also update its IT governance guide to ensure that CIO responsibilities are included in IT planning and oversight activities, the document states.

The Justice document on FITARA also calls for updating a manual for submitting congressional funding requests. "The manual must be revised to describe the CIO's role and authority in the review and concurrence of reprogramming actions that involve IT funds and programs requiring congressional approval," the document reads.

The OMB common baseline calls for having an agency-wide process in place for ensuring that qualified personnel carry out IT acquisitions, and that they tap into shared services. The Justice assessment finds that "qualifications for IT workforce are addressed in policy, but not the IT acquisition."

Further, current Justice policy does not require CIO review of cost estimates, according to the document. Among the remedies Justice officials recommend are to identify the IT skills needed for acquisition professionals to do their job. 

The DHS FITARA self-assessment, meanwhile, says the agency has "fully implemented" a plan to meet the FITARA common baseline directive to give the CIO clear visibility into IT resources. The CIO office is "integrated into the shaping of annual Resource Allocation Plan instructions to the DHS organizations," according to the assessment, "ensuring that appropriate IT resource data is collected into the agency-wide RAP submission to the CIO."

Like Justice, DHS is still adjusting to the enhanced role for the CIO in the budgeting process, according to the document. Though the CIO's office is "very much integrated" into the budgeting process, "to comply with FITARA, the DHS CIO role…[needs] to be strengthened and clearly defined," the document states.

The overhaul sought by FITARA backers is likely to be a long slog. In a recent FCW column, former DHS CIO Richard Spires wrote that he was "concerned about our government's ability to sustain the leadership required to drive" the IT policy changes to which FITARA aspires, and offered his own remedies.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.

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