The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA)  aimed to empower agency CIOs and improve federal IT management. Now comes the hard part: putting those ideas into practice.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) posted draft guidance on GitHub and is taking commentsuntil May 30. But thus far, it’s not causing much of a stir among GitHub’s 9.5 million registered users, reports Jack Moore on Nextgov.

Still, that doesn’t mean IT leaders are holding their opinions close to the vest.

FITARA’s Origins
Jeff Neal, Founder of and Senior Vice President at ICF International, calls OMB’s guidance “a big deal,” because it finally puts some muscle behind the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, which aimed to improve the acquisition process, and made CIOs central advisors to leadership on IT architectures and investments.

“Clinger-Cohen was implemented in the standard bureaucratic way with no teeth,” said Neal. “It made changes, but fell far short of what was needed. This time around, OMB clearly defines the role of agency CIOs.”

John Weiler, CIO and Managing Director at IT Acquisition Advisory Council (IT-AAC), says cultural issues were what kept Clinger-Cohen from delivering on its potential.

“It wasn’t a technical problem,” Weiler said. “We were disconnected from commercial best practices. There was cultural resistance.”

Not Far Enough
Jim Ryan, chief operating officer at Flexera, believes the FITARA guidance needs to address software license optimization.

“OMB’s proposal lacks guidance that would enable agencies to identify and eliminate billions of dollars wasted annually on software,” Ryan posted on Nextgov. “OMB guidance must not only eliminate waste in the government’s software estate but also stop duplicate spending and software license noncompliance.”

Ryan recommends following commercial best practices, and adopting four levels of “software license optimization maturity:” Installation Assessed, Managed Software Inventory, Continuously Compliant, and Software License Optimization.

Changing Role of CIOs
OMB’s guidance says agencies’ chief financial officer, chief information officer and chief acquisition officer must all work together to better manage resources and programs.

“The CIO defines the development processes, milestones, review gates, and the overall policies for all capital planning and project management and reporting for IT resources,” the guidance says.

CIOs must also approve any IT strategy, acquisition, or agreement. FITARA will equip CIOs to more effectively use their influence within agencies, Neal said.

“CIOs who are highly capable, but may have been struggling with the bureaucracy and its unwillingness to change, may find they have new weapons and tools to get their jobs done,” said Neal.

But it won’t all be smooth sailing, acknowledges newly installed Federal CIO Tony Scott. He told Jason Miller of Federal News Radio that IT “is a contact, active sport.”

“This will require a lot more contact and interaction and collaboration than anything that has gone before,” Scott said. “We should embrace it. Make it work.”

That will take time, Weiler said.

“Policy doesn’t solve problems,” he explained. “What does is proper practice and relevant experience.”

Tom Temin, host of The Federal Drive on Federal News Radio, agreed, writing in his blog that too much time and effort goes into process and reports, and not enough into solutions.

“It’s a prime example of how large bureaucracies, both private and public, default to detailed process to achieve goals,” Temin writes. “For CIOs the problem with all this process and reporting, aside from the cost and questionable relevance of much of it, stems from how little use it can be in resolving department-specific challenges. Filing 36 reports a year didn’t get the Veterans Affairs Department to Nirvana in scheduling and treating veterans, or Health and Human Services to stop wasting 15 percent of Medicare and Medicaid dollars.”

Next Steps
OMB wants to move fast. Whether it can or not is an open question. The guidance calls for a new baseline for CIO authorities by Dec. 31.

Dan Chenok, executive director of the IBM Center for The Business of Government, blogged on that challenge for IBM: “The memo treats IT as a key mission enabler, one where CIO leadership is best exercised through a governance process that involves other key agency stakeholders – including CFOs and other CXOs as well as program executives, with support from the Agency Head and Deputy.  Just as the private sector has recognized that IT drives mission performance, the FITARA guidance bridges that perspective to government.”

If FITARA is to become a key mission enabler, CXOs must take a page from the private sector and work together, he writes. And with Scott, a long-time veteran CIO at large-scale American companies now running the Federal CIO office, OMB might be in position to drive real change.

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