House approves IT reform amendment to Defense bill

Friday - 6/14/2013, 5:53pm EDT

The first major information-technology reform bill in a decade cleared the House Friday.

House lawmakers approved the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) as an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment passed along with several others by voice vote.

"This amendment is not controversial, but it's critical. At a time when over $80 billion is spent and over 10 percent of it goes completely wasted on IT purchases by the government, there's never been a more important time to update the legendary, historic Clinger-Cohen Act," said Rep. Darrell lssa (R-Calif.), co-author of FITARA and chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, during remarks on the House floor Friday. "As we modernize this act, I would ask both to have it considered as important, but also have it recognized as critically necessary. One of the most important things, and something that makes common sense to the people who may hear this today or read it in the transcript, is that we have more chief information officers today than we have departments, and all but one have no budget authority. This legislation, when enacted, will eliminate that. It will eliminate duplicative IT that gives us overruns of as much as 20 percent in our purchasing of licenses and also puts real meaning behind the term CIO. Never again will someone have that title and have no budget authority and responsibility."

FITARA would empower CIOs by reducing the number of people with that title to one per agency, and give that person authority over the IT budget and personnel decisions.

The amendment also would codify many of the Obama administration's initiatives, such as data center consolidation, spending transparency through the IT dashboard and the elimination of duplicative hardware and software investments.

"Our bill would modernize, streamline and make more transparent by actually posting 80 percent of all acquisitions on the website," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the other co-author of the bill. "It would streamline the decision making process. Right now, the 26 major agencies have over 250 people called CIOs. We would designate one per agency who is responsible primarily and accountable primarily for IT acquisitions."

Issa's committee passed FITARA in March without much debate.

He chose to take a common path for IT reform — attaching it to the Defense authorization bill. The Clinger-Cohen Act, the E-Government Act of 2002, the Federal Information Management Act and many other acquisition and technology bills became law as amendments instead of standalone bills.

The Senate has not introduced a companion bill to FITARA. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing earlier this week looking at IT duplication, but much of it focused on the authority of CIOs.

The House's passage of FITARA received lukewarm support from industry.

The Software and Information Industry Association said in a statement that it continues to have concerns about some of the proposed reforms.

SIIA said its major concerns center on the net effect of the changes to the language around the use of open source software and the language that would alter the application of FISMA by, in essence, codifying the FedRAMP program.

"Federal IT acquisition reform is long overdue, and we appreciate the work of Chairman Issa, Rep. Connolly and their respective staffs to recognize the critical need for reform and move it forward," said Mike Hettinger, director of the SIIA Public Sector Innovation Group (PSIG), in a statement. "FITARA puts in place needed changes in IT acquisition, including increasing the authority of federal CIOs, promoting data center optimization, and recognizing the importance of a highly trained IT acquisition workforce."

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