Rep. Connolly says momentum is building for IT procurement reforms

Wednesday - 11/27/2013, 4:11am EST

Jason Miller interviews Rep. Gerry Connolly.

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The widespread management and oversight failings of the HealthCare.gov rollout renewed the call on Capitol Hill and from the White House to fix how agencies buy technology.

While the administration continues to focus on fixing the Affordable Care Act portal by Nov. 30, the Senate is poised next week to follow the House's lead and act to reform the way agencies buy technology.

But one of the co-authors of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), said the bill is by no means the silver bullet or panacea to the systemic problems HealthCare.gov once again exposed.

"Getting FITARA into law is a real first step. It's not going to solve all the problems," Connolly said in an interview with Federal News Radio. "But I think it's going to create a new environment for IT management that we badly need."

The House passed FITARA in June as part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The Senate finally acted on the bill Nov. 20 when Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced an amendment to the upper chamber's version of the NDAA.

"The problems with the Affordable Care Act website highlight the need for a larger effort to upgrade our informational technology infrastructure," said Shaheen in a release. "What we're doing right now is outdated, expensive and inefficient. We have to upgrade the way we do business, boost accountability and oversight, and put in place the right kind of federal IT infrastructure for the future, and we have to do it now."

Shaheen said her amendment mirrors the House version of FITARA, except for the data center consolidation provisions. Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tom Coburn (R- Okla.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced a separate amendment to the NDAA to address agency requirements to consolidate data centers.

The committee passed the Data Center Consolidation Act in November.

Support for reforms grow

Carper and Coburn, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, held several hearings looking at different aspects of FITARA, such as giving agency chief information officers more authority, but never introduced a companion bill.

"Chairman Carper and his staff continue to work with Senate and House colleagues to improve how our federal agencies manage their IT systems," said a committee staff member by email. "Earlier this month, the committee approved S.1611, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Act of 2013, which mirrors a major provision in Chairman Issa's FITARA legislation. Advancing this measure is a priority of Chairman Carper."

Connolly said the Senate is close to acting on FITARA, as support grew considerably after the HealthCare.gov debacle.

He said his and Issa's staffs have had good conversations with Carper and Coburn's staff, as well as those of several other senators.

"I'm really hopeful especially, frankly, after the health care website difficulties that people are now seized with the mission that we must do a better job of federal IT acquisition," Connolly said. "Of course, I wish one could say the health care roll out was unique, but it, frankly, characterizes large federal IT procurements."

As for the administration, President Barack Obama earlier this month called for a review of the federal procurement processes to buy IT.

But the White House has not signaled what the review would entail or what steps need to be taken.

Tries to fix systemic problems

FITARA is considered the first major rewrite of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and the first major governmentwide technology and acquisition change in the law since the E-Government Act of 2002.

Both bills attempted to improve agency management and oversight of IT. But many experts believe agencies fell well short of implementing key provisions of the bill, and Congress dropped the oversight ball.

FITARA would reduce the number of CIOs from more than 200 across the 24 major agencies to requiring only one person with the title of CIO per department.

It also gives the CIO more authority and accountability, and requires each CIO to be presidentially-appointed, but not Senate confirmed.

Additionally, the legislation aims to help agencies in developing requirements for IT programs. It would create a Federal Infrastructure and Common Application Collaboration Center, which would serve as a focal point for the program and technical expertise necessary for coordinated IT acquisition best practices. The bill's authors task the center to lead the review of significant or troubled IT investments or acquisitions on the IT Dashboard and provide expert aid when needed.