VanRoekel signals tepid support for Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act

Friday - 7/26/2013, 5:44am EDT

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The White House finally broke its silence on whether it supports the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act — well, sort of.

House lawmakers attached the IT reform bill, known as FITARA, to the 2014 Defense Authorization bill, which the lower chamber approved in June. The Obama administration didn't address the amendment in the Statement of Administration Policy that it issued on the bill, nor did it publicly support it during multiple hearings and meetings the Oversight and Government Reform Committee held as it was creating the bill.

But Federal Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel said Thursday, after a subcommittee on Government Operations hearing on the data center consolidation initiative, that it's good Congress is taking up IT as a focus area.

"FITARA itself as passed by the House has one large issue that we saw Rep. [Gerry] Connolly identify, which is the lack of coverage for the Defense Department. A lot of discussion happened today around how DoD is managing its IT," VanRoekel said in an interview with Federal News Radio. "It's essential that good ideas come forward. I think there are other areas around CIO authorities. I think it's good, but I don't know if it goes far enough. Some of the build out of other government operations to cover some of this, they're more on the nuance side, and I think we need to work through some of the technical details. But there is potential there."

In the past, VanRoekel showed little support at best for the changes outlined in FITARA. At a hearing in January, he told the full committee there was room within the existing law on the policy side to be successful with reforming federal IT.

Blunt warning

But without administration support, IT reform doesn't have a big chance to become law.

On Thursday, subcommittee members offered VanRoekel a stark picture of what would happen if the administration doesn't support the bill.

"It is the friendliest, the most sympathetic bill you will get out of Congress. It is, in large measure, a codification in fact, initiatives and reforms undertaken by this administration," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), ranking member of the subcommittee and co-author of FITARA. "But, if the administration decides to spurn this legislation that has passed the House already, you are going to have problems on both sides of the aisle."

He said the majority on the committee reached out to industry and Democrats and tried to talk to the administration in writing the bill.

"The Chairman [Darrell] Issa could have filed this bill back in October. To his credit, to the staff's credit, they kept it open, negotiating with us, with industry, with the administration and with others from October until we filed it finally late in February. And we were willing to take additional modifications to try to get it right," Connolly said. "I urge you to go back and consider support for this legislation. If there are changes, great, but a position of opposition is not going to sit well in this Congress on both sides of the aisle."

Several Hill sources say the communication between the White House and the committee isn't great, despite repeated attempts by staff members to get feedback on the bill.

The other witnesses at the hearing, David Powner, the Government Accountability Office's director of IT management issues, and Dave McClure, the General Services Administration's associate administrator in the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, said they support FITARA, especially when it comes to data center consolidation.

No action in the Senate

The third piece to this IT reform puzzle to become law is the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the committee, said in an email, IT reform is an area where legislation would be helpful.

"Both Chairman Issa and I share the goal of improving how our agencies invest and manage federal IT systems," he said. "There are some interesting ideas in Chairman Issa's bill that deserve careful attention. I look forward to working with him and my colleagues in the Senate to improve management of the nearly $80 billion our federal government spends each year on its IT systems."

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the Defense Authorization Bill in early June. The full Senate has yet to debate the bill, and so far there hasn't been any public discussion about offering FITARA as amendment.

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