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.
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"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.
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.
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