Insight | May 17, 2016

Making the grade! The Congressional FITARA Scorecard as a Catalyst for Change

By Kareem El-Alaily

This article, co-authored by Rich Beutel, principal at Cyrrus Analytics, was originally published on Federal News Radio.

The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) is a game-changer. It’s altering how government thinks about federal IT. Congress, the executive branch and, most importantly, the agencies themselves, have a role to play in making sure the outcomes envisioned by FITARA take root.

The congressional FITARA scorecard is the carrot and the stick that can help make this happen, but it must evolve to measure more than just compliance with the letter of the law; it must drive the critical changes that the law intended

It’s no secret FITARA is one of the most far-reaching reform packages to come out of Congress since the seminal Clinger-Cohen Act in 1996. Founded upon the basic premise that IT can and must serve as a transformational platform to drive 21st century digital services to American taxpayers, the legislation elevates the chief information officer of major federal agencies, giving them a stronger and entrenched voice with senior agency leadership.

But now, with the legislation pushing toward the 18-month mark, the hard part is just beginning.

The old Clinger-Cohen Act was full of good ideas, but its success was limited by inconsistent application across government. Why? For many reasons, not the least of which are that its primary protagonists — Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine) and Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.) — moved on before the legislation ever took root within the culture of federal agencies.

Regarding FITARA, Congress has said it will not let the legislation die a Clinger-Cohen death. On Nov. 4, 2015, the IT subcommittee of House Oversight and Government Reform undertook its first-ever FITARA implementation hearing, and made abundantly clear that they intend to keep a close eye on agencies to make sure FITARA gets done.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) made this point emphatically at the hearing, forcefully stating that “agencies should be put on notice that Congress will not sit by the wayside and allow the law to be skirted.”

The primary tool used by Congress is the FITARA scorecard. The scorecard measures four discrete elements — data center consolidation, IT portfolio savings, incremental development, and transparency of risk assessment.

The first set of scores were published in November 2015. Some agencies, such as Commerce and the General Services Administration, stood out by earning high scores. A few agencies scored poorly on the scorecard, but were lauded by the House Oversight Committee for the forthright and transparent fashion with which agency leadership acknowledged and addressed the problems (such as Transportation). The second set of scores are expected to come out May 18 at another House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.

Despite those feel-good stories, the majority of agencies still scored a ‘D’ or worse. While not the best start to achieving the changes envisioned by FITARA, the initial scores provided an honest look at where things stood and served as a forcing mechanism to have agencies address those shortcomings. In that sense, the scorecard has been successful.

Going forward, the scorecard needs to continue evolving to further promote positive change. The initial version was an excellent start; now, it needs to expand to capture broader metrics that will ensure that the spirit of FITARA continues to be fulfilled.

The focus of new FITARA metrics should be on key areas like agency CIO authority enhancements; training and the use of IT acquisition cadres; and the government-wide adoption of a software purchasing program.

Here are some questions that can be asked that will help highlight how far along CIO shops in these areas:

  • Central management of IT spend– How well is IT spend controlled by the CIO? What is the maturity level of each agency in adopting and utilizing category management, primarily around hardware and software? What is the extent to which agencies currently use governmentwide or, at least departmentwide, contracts to eliminate waste and duplication? How well do agencies perform in negotiating the best pricing and terms relative to others?
  • Workforce optimization – How prevalent is shadow IT and what steps are being taken to bring these resources under the CIO’s authority? How well do agencies engage in IT capacity planning, succession planning and skills assessments in order to maximize productivity and service levels?
  • Elimination of redundant infrastructure – How well are agencies consolidating redundant cellular, network and telecommunications contracts? How well are agencies leveraging cloud technologies (where applicable) to eliminate infrastructure?
  • Progress of modernization – What progress have agencies made in modernizing legacy systems? What is the ratio of spending between maintaining old legacy systems (O&M) and developing new platforms or enhancing current solutions (DME)?

 

These are a partial list of potential criteria questions that an updated congressional scorecard could attempt to answer. Without a doubt, the initial assessments may not be pretty. But like the original scorecard, it will spur positive action and continue fulfilling the letter and spirit of FITARA.