GAO Expert Forum Sheds Light on How to Keep FITARA Alive

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act could go the way of the Clinger-Cohen Act, according to some IT experts who attended a forum hosted by the Government Accountability Office.

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 established the position of chief information officer and required the Office of Management and Budget to evaluate the risks associated with agencies’ IT investments. According to a GAO report issued April 11, Clinger-Cohen was “well intended, but not effectively implemented.”

FITARA could follow the path of its ill-fated predecessor without stronger Congressional oversight, an increased OMB presence, and participation from the Department of Defense, the report states.

“The participants believed that many of the agencies’ FITARA implementation plans did not accurately reflect the true state of CIO authority challenges that existed at those agencies,” the GAO’s report states. “The participants stressed the importance of OMB having an active role following up on these plans to ensure that they are effectively implemented.”

The GAO’s report condenses the input collected from an expert panel the agency hosted in September to glean suggestions on the best way to improve IT delivery and operations in the Federal space. Agencies’ torpor around IT modernization was one impetus for the forum. As of January, 46 percent of the 803 recommendations GAO has made pertaining to IT acquisitions have been addressed.

The purpose of FITARA is to improve Federal IT acquisitions and allow Congress to track how well agencies are modernizing their infrastructure. Civilian agencies are assessed twice a year by a scorecard that Congress releases. The scorecard evaluates CIO authority enhancements, transparency, portfolio review, and data center consolidation.

According to the GAO’s report, several of the forum’s participants asked that the Department of Defense be required to comply with FITARA criteria. DOD is the largest Federal agency and spends about one third of the Federal government’s $80 billion IT allowance, but, as of yet, does not have to comply with FITARA.

Increasing the role of CIOs was another major point of concern from IT experts, according to the report. Some Federal agencies give CIOs a small margin of influence for IT operations. One forum participant used the example of a Federal CIO who wielded authority over only $80 million of a $2 billion IT budget. The GAO’s report reflects the desire for CIOs to play an enhanced role, facilitate collaborative government, and focus on cybersecurity issues.

“Given the growing threats and severe consequences of cybersecurity incidents, the participants agreed that having cybersecurity as a priority could help to elevate the CIOs’ role and their respective authorities,” the report states. “In this regard, a participant stressed the importance of agencies establishing strong cybersecurity policies that require CIO approval before systems become operational.”

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