Critical Read

IT insiders tell GAO what works

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What: "Information Technology: Opportunities for Improving Acquisitions and Operations," a Government Accountability Office report compiling input from tech experts, members of Congress, as well as former and current government officials from a Sept. 2016 forum.

Why: IT accounts for more than $80 billion of the annual federal spend, the majority of which goes toward maintaining legacy systems. Managing, modernizing and replacing these old systems that undergird federal operations has been a governmentwide challenge.

The recommendations for improving IT acquisitions and operations touch on seven areas: strengthening FITARA in practice, improving CIO authorities, budget considerations, governance, workforce issues, operations and transition planning.

Forum participants "agreed that FITARA is the government's best chance to improve federal agencies' IT acquisitions and operations," but pushed for more aggressive congressional oversight and for the Office of Management and Budget to take on a stronger, more supportive role. They also called for an end to Department of Defense's FITARA carveouts, considering DOD accounts for one-third of the total federal IT budget.

The empowerment of CIOs requires a culture change that can be driven by increased authorities that allow them to address mounting cybersecurity threats and govern agency IT, panelists suggested, adding that Increasing autonomy for federal CIOs, human resources and the IT workforce would help attract more qualified applicants.

Effective IT governance and procurement rely on sound budget formulation and management, which, panelists suggested, could be improved by simplifying definitions of IT and closer coordination with Congress and agency procurement offices.

"Buy more and develop less" was a central suggestion to improving IT delivery. For operations on existing systems, they said a strategic migration to the cloud would help mitigate inefficient business process and consolidate data centers. They added that cloud computing would also enable agencies to buy services "faster and possibly cheaper" than traditional practices

Apprising new leadership on the challenges in federal IT and the importance of IT and cyber issues is critical in getting incoming the White House and congressional staffs to prioritize IT, participants said. Congress and OMB play key roles in IT management and cybersecurity, so getting their attention early in the transition process is critical in addressing these challenges.

Verbatim: "The participants viewed FITARA as having been partially effective to date, with positive developments having emerged since the law was passed…Nevertheless, the participants emphasized that major barriers to full implementation of the law, such as organizational cultures, stand to limit its impact. Several participants noted the importance of Congress and the White House placing individuals knowledgeable in IT and cybersecurity issues as the heads of agencies. Otherwise, these participants believed FITARA could 'go the way of Clinger-Cohen,' a law that was well-intended, but which was not effectively implemented."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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