FITARA sponsor Issa to retire from Congress

The former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the lead sponsor of the IT procurement bill FITARA is calling it quits.

Rep. Darrell Issa
 

Lead FITARA sponsor Darrell Issa is retiring after eight terms in the House of Representatives.

California Republican and IT reform champion Rep. Darrell Issa announced he won't be seeking reelection in 2018.

The congressman, first elected in 2000, joins a large number of Republicans who have decided to leave Congress following the current session, in part because of what appear to be shifting political winds. Issa, who represents a coastal swath of southern California north of San Diego, won his 2016 race by just 2,000 votes in a district that went for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by seven percentage points.

"Two decades ago, when I stepped away from the business I'd built to enter public service, I never could have imagined that a long-shot bid for U.S. Senate would lead to 18 years in the House of Representatives and endless opportunities to make a meaningful impact," Issa said in a statement.

Issa's political profile was controversial. As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2011 to 2015, he pursued investigations of hot-button issues including allegations of the IRS targeting conservative Tea Party groups to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi to the "Fast and Furious" plan by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives to trace illegal gun sales from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels.

But Issa also led efforts to reform runaway federal IT spending with the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, passed as part of the fiscal year 2015 defense bill, despite a lack of interest in the Senate. He was also the lead House sponsor of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act that passed the same year, which required federal agencies to report spending in machine-readable formats. That law, which is still being implemented, promises to offer watchdogs and public interest groups new visibility into the disposition of federal funds, from congressional appropriation to disbursement.

FITARA was the first significant update in IT legislation since the Clinger-Cohen law in the mid-1990s. It expanded CIO visibility into agency IT spending, created a statutory framework for data center consolidation and authorized new training efforts to update the way the government buys technology. It also set the stage for the Managing Government Technology Act, which leverages revolving funds at agencies and a planned governmentwide fund to push legacy systems to modern managed services.

Rich Beutel, a former Oversight committee senior staffer who helped draft FITARA, said that Issa's "bipartisan leadership on IT policy culminated in the passage of FITARA, a landmark set of reforms that had touched every aspect of government IT practice." Beutel added that "FITARA is an essential building block towards creating a modern digital government and, along with passage of the DATA Act, should stand as a critical legislative legacy for the former chairman."

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who co-sponsored FITARA and is still actively engaged in FITARA oversight, said their work together on the bill was "an unexpected collaboration."

"We found common ground on the whole issue of IT in the federal government, and I think the bill produced a visionary product that provides a framework for a couple of decades," Connolly told FCW. "That's the kind of serious legislating that we could have done a lot more of," he said.

Issa's political leanings and style often made committee work difficult, Connolly told FCW. "His tenure as chairman was very contentious not only in terms of issues but personally as well," Connolly said, citing a 2014 episode in which Issa left a hearing and ordered the microphone of Ranking Member Elijah Cummings turned off. "That's also part of his legacy, a very unfortunate part of that legacy," Connolly said.

Issa was term-limited out of the Oversight chairmanship in 2015 under Republican Conference rules, despite efforts to seek a waiver. He was replaced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who recently left Congress to become a commentator on Fox News. At the time, Chaffetz sought to cool the tensions on the panel by ditching the tradition of hanging portraits of past chairmen in favor of photos of familiar American settings.

Issa came to politics after making a fortune in the technology business, notably from marketing the Viper car alarm system that featured a motion-activated warning that was recorded in Issa's own voice. Issa holds multiple patents related to automotive antitheft technology.

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