OMB: New CIO authorities won't 'bottleneck' IT planning, acquisitions

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There are new rules of the road for federal agency IT acquisitions, and the bottom line appears to be that the CIO job is about to get a lot more powerful, and potentially a lot more interesting.

The Office of Management and Budget released on April 30 new proposed guidance for the implementation of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, the IT reform package that was signed into law in December 2014.

The guidance gets into the weeds on the new authorities CIOs have over IT budgets.

As interpreted by OMB, the law not only strengthens the hand of agency level CIOs over their bureau and component CIO colleagues, but gives the CIO a seat at the table when determining how agencies will deploy IT to run government programs.

CIOs are directed to be involved in the "pre-budget submission" stage for IT in specific federal programs, and overall agency enterprise IT. CIOs are also tasked with reviewing and approving the IT portion of agency budget submissions. And they are authorized to define how agency IT capital planning and project management is done, and to define metrics for reporting agency progress.

Agencies are responsible for submitting plans to OMB for exactly how this is going to get done through a "Common Baseline" plan. Each agency gets a chance to tune the OMB interpretation of FITARA, to allow for greater or lesser participation of CIOs in planning and decision making.

OMB also sought to allay fears that gridlock could result from having all IT roads lead to the CIO's office.

"This was an initial primary concern of many CIOs and agency executives. In response, we created the CIO assignment plan to allow the CIO to assign, in a rules-based manner, certain responsibilities to other people in their department. This keeps the accountability with the CIO but allows each agency to realistically meet the law's requirements while minimizing the chance for bottlenecks," according to the guidance.

Under FITARA, the agency CIO is now for all intents and purposes in charge of hiring bureau IT leaders, whether they go by the CIO or some other title. CIOs also have a leadership role in the ongoing evaluation of tech leaders. Additionally, agency CIOs are charged with compiling and publishing a list of CIOs throughout bureaus and components.

The guidance touches on other areas of FITARA's legislative language, such as strategic sourcing, data center consolidation, government-wide software purchasing and IT acquisition cadres. But because those were so closely modeled on existing administration initiatives, there wasn't much in the way of new material. Updates in these areas that include fine-tuning to comply with FITARA will be released before the end of fiscal 2015.

One of the law's key architects is pleased with OMB's efforts.

"The proposal represents an important milestone in transforming FITARA from the letter of the law on paper to the reality in practice across the federal government,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told FCW in a statement. “Importantly, the draft guidance recognizes that effectively implementing enhanced CIO authorities requires that reforms be carried out across the entirety of an agency's C-suite leadership."

Connolly also stressed the importance of CIOS using the new powers they’ve been given.

"I look forward to working closely with the FITARA implementation team to further refine and enhance this proposal, particularly with respect to ensuring that agency CIOs utilize the full authority under FITARA to ensure that they have the right component agency CIOs in place now," he said.

Public feedback on the proposed guidance is due by May 30, but OMB is asking that any "substantive comments" be posted by May 15.

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