Federal IT Reform Bill Passes House - InformationWeek

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Government // Leadership

Federal IT Reform Bill Passes House

Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act contains far-reaching changes to the IT procurement system. It would grant greater authority to agency CIOs.

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On Tuesday the House of Representatives passed a bill by voice vote that contains the most far-reaching changes to the federal IT procurement system in almost two decades. It could save the federal government as much as $2 billion annually by changing wasteful buying practices.

The bipartisan Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act embodies several measures designed to boost the role of agency CIOs. Under FITARA, government agencies would have a single CIO, appointed by the president, with greater authority over IT operations within component agencies.

FITARA would also require government agencies to eliminate software IT assets that are duplicative or overlapping, and curtail the purchase of new software licenses until an agency's needs exceed the number of existing or unused licenses. Agencies would also be required to make stronger business cases for their acquisition plans. Agencies would be required to track and report their progress in consolidating datacenters.

[Federal agencies continue to pour millions into overlapping IT projects. Check out the Most Wasteful Government IT Projects Of 2013.]

"FITARA puts in place needed changes to IT acquisition and management, including increasing the authority of agency CIOs, promoting datacenter optimization, and recognizing the importance of a highly skilled IT workforce," said Mike Hettinger, senior VP for public sector and federal government affairs with the trade group TechAmerica, in a letter the trade group released to thank Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) for his work on the legislation.

Rep. Darrell Issa
Rep. Darrell Issa

Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, cosponsored the bill with Subcommittee on Government Operations ranking member Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "Good software saves billions of dollars and countless lives and countless hours if it works," Issa said in a statement. "Bad or poorly done software can frustrate the American public and deprive them of the very product or service they expected to receive. This is a significant and timely reform that will enhance both defense and non-defense procurement."

If the bill is signed into law, it could save the government upwards of $2 billion a year, according to IT industry estimates, by eliminating unused and underused software licenses and eradicating noncompliant software that incurs financial penalties for the federal government.

"We know from experience that as much as 25% of the government's software budget could be saved by implementing industry best practices and technology around software license optimization," said Jim Ryan, COO at software optimization firm Flexera Software. "There is no need for this massive waste of taxpayer dollars to continue when the means to solve the problem are known and readily available to government agencies."

Significantly, the legislation requires federal agencies to adopt proven private-sector practices that employ new technologies and use analytical tools to improve and manage IT systems, said Tom Schatz, president of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.

"Section 301 of FITARA requires federal agencies to optimize their software licenses by knowing the software licensing requirements of their workforce prior to purchasing or renewing licenses, thus avoiding overpaying for software licenses they do not need or being subject to penalties for using more software licenses than they purchased," Schatz said.

The House bill is divided into sections that address management of IT resources, improve datacenter optimization, and eliminate duplication and waste in IT acquisition. Other sections seek to strengthen IT management and to improve transparency and competition in IT solicitations.

The IT industry had strong objections to the original legislation introduced in 2012, concerned that it created unnecessary red tape and that it put proprietary software on an uneven playing field against open source software. Lawmakers made significant changes to it before including it in the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. Although industry has some remaining concerns, it will support the bill, Hettinger told Issa.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.

William Welsh is a contributing writer to InformationWeek Government. He has covered the government IT market since 2000 for publications such as Washington Technology and Defense Systems. View Full Bio

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Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/27/2014 | 10:53:21 AM
Re: IT Reform
How do they put "proprietary software on an even playing field against open source software"? I don't get that - do they mean make it easier to go open source?

Also, will these agency CIOs need to be confirmed by the senate? Seems like that could make the situation worse, not better, if an agency is rudderless because of political gamesmanship.
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 1:08:39 PM
IT Reform
FITARA is an important piece of legislation and Congressmen Darrell Issa and Gerry Connolly deserve credit for ushering it through the House.  While not everyone believes that having a single CIO in charge at each agency will solve the problems of duplicative IT spending, it is a positive step in the right direction and the most important enhancement of the CIO's role in government since the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act.

The acquisition reforms are also much needed, and Congressman Issa and Connolly again deserve credit in listening to the concerns of industry and adjusting the legislation, so for instance, open source software and proprietary software can compete on a more level playing field for federal business.  In particular, agencies need better acquisition tools to buy computing by the day or week, versus the procedures most agencies still must follow, written at a time when computing buys and software licensing deals could take 3-year to complete.

FITARA also makes data center optimization and the need for a highly skilled IT workforce important components in agency planning and reporting that should also help drive out wasteful IT practices.  Now we see how serious the Senate is about addressing these issues.
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