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FCW : January 2016
January 2016 FCW.COM 17 The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act required all agencies covered by the law to have implementation plans in place by Dec. 31, 2015. So in early December, FCW gathered a broad cross-section of current and former agency executives for a two-hour roundtable discussion on their FITARA implementa- tion efforts — and came away with the following insights on the realities of reforming federal IT. The discussion was on the record but not for individual attri- bution. (See Page 24 for a list of participants.) Ready to roll... Perhaps most striking was the group’s enthu- siasm for making FITARA’s reforms a reality and their optimism that getting the changes to stick might actually be possible. Plenty of serious obstacles must still be overcome, and participants discussed them at some length. But “we’re sort of past hav- ing a theoretical discussion,” one CIO said. “We’re moving into actually operationalizing FITARA.” On the day of the roundtable discussion, the Transportation Department took a clear step in that direction in the form of a memo — signed by the agency’s CIO, chief financial officer and chief acquisition officer — that freezes new IT spending for 90 to 120 days so that a baseline assessment can be completed. Other executives agreed that getting clear- er pictures of their agencies’ IT investments was critical, though they were seeking that visibility in different ways. “At [my agency],” one CIO said, “we started implementing FITARA basically three years ago before FITARA even existed. We started... to talk about review of the entire agency.” It’s possible to get a “single operation image for the entire organization,” the CIO added. “If you have the right leadership, and that leadership is focused on...accomplishing this thing, you can do great things in 120 days. You can find out 80 or 90 percent of the IT — of the spend, personnel, process and technology.” Another agency CIO concurred. “FITARA works great in theory. [In practice, though,] we need to make sure that the culture changes, along with some of the requirements that have changed.... It takes the entire organization, and it is a cultural shift because people are going to have to report and provide documentation and provide roadmaps where they did not have to do that before. It’s constant communication.” “FITARA gives us the opportunity to fill a need,” another participant said. “The challenge is: Do we have the intestinal fortitude?” The executive noted that the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act also called for significant changes, but implementation efforts never really stuck. “We don’t want FITARA to end up the same way that Clinger-Cohen did.” That was a refrain throughout the discussion. One CIO recounted a clear example of Clinger-Cohen reforms being aggressively rebuffed: The Energy Department’s CIO at the time “decided she was going to put Clinger-Cohen in a draft memo and circulate it for the customer base to review. For the first time in the history of DOE, all the lab directors from all the national labs got together, drafted a memo within 24 hours [and] sent it to the secretary. [The CIO] was actually moved to the side in 48 hours.” Multiple participants said that for FITARA to avoid a similar fate, agencies must do a much better job of cataloguing and categorizing IT. As one CIO put it, “It gets to the question we were talking about: What do you call IT, and how do you buck- etize it, and how do you measure it?” Two participants said efforts are underway to provide better benchmarks by adapting work the private sector has done to drill into its data. (See related story, Page 22.) “When we look back on how suc- cessful FITARA is, there is going to be a fairly interesting story around the level of commitment that we place on IT portfolio management,” a non-CIO agency execu- tive said. “Knowledge is power.” With truly robust portfolio manage- ment, the agency executive added, “the conversation changes. FITARA becomes really valuable. There’s real financial sav- ings, [and] these projects get out quicker and [are] more successful, based some- what on the level of commitment that we have to portfolio management.” Another non-CIO participant noted that agencies’ organizational charts could also prove critical. “In our case,” that executive said, “we have our CIO and our senior procurement executive reporting to the same person. This helps the relationship tremendously. You really don’t have an option but to cooperate.” A large-agency CIO agreed but noted that not all government organizations were so lucky. “If you look at FITARA, there’s a horizontal and longitudinal problem,” the CIO said. At the department level, “I’ve got to work with three other CXOs so that we’re all marching as one.” Different component agencies, however, have “all sorts of autonomies,” and those bureau CIOs don’t have full control at their level either. “They have to work horizontally across their CXOs and work with programs that often direct appropriations. Look at their problem!” Another large-agency CIO agreed. “We have CIOs report all “WHEN WE LOOK BACK ON HOW SUCCESSFUL FITARA IS, THERE IS GOING TO BE A FAIRLY INTERESTING STORY AROUND THE LEVEL OF COMMITMENT THAT WE PLACE ON IT PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.” 0116fcw_016-024.indd 17 1/6/16 11:41 AM
November and December 2015