Inside the Reporter's Notebook: Communication breakdown over FITARA? Lawmaker wants answers from DHS

Monday - 4/29/2013, 5:34am EDT

"Inside the Reporter's Notebook," is a bi-weekly dispatch of news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and the like.

This is not a column nor commentary — it's news tidbits, strongly sourced buzz and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

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There seems a small chasm being created between the White House and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee over the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).

Rich Beutel, the lead staff member on the majority side for the bill, asked Joe Jordan, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator, at the Coalition for Government Procurement conference last week about his thoughts on the bill.

Jordan offered only a general response about how important IT and acquisition reform is but gave no specific opinion on the bill.

When Beutel walked away from the microphone, he said loud enough for everyone to hear that Jordan should call him sometime.

After the panel discussion, Beutel said the committee has reached out to the Office of Management and Budget on four separate occasions asking for input or comments on the bill, but to no avail.

Federal chief information officer Steve VanRoekel testified on the FITARA in January, saying chief information officers have all the authorities they need in the current laws to get the job done. He said the only change needed was how Congress appropriated money for IT programs.

So, maybe it's just Jordan who the committee is waiting to hear from.

Jordan offered this further but equally opaque comment on Beutel's question and follow-up comment by email, "The administration is committed to maximizing the value of every federal taxpayer dollar spent in federal contracting. Specifically in the space of information technology, we have shown progress and success in maximizing value for the American people through initiatives such as PortfolioStat and strategic sourcing. We appreciate the committee's attention to this issue. We are strongly committed to these issues, and look forward to working with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to achieve greater efficiencies in the procurement and delivery of information technology."

A committee spokesman didn't shine any more light on what seems to be a minor communication breakdown.

"FITARA has been a bipartisan effort and the committee looks forward to OMB's input on the legislation," the spokesman said.

No matter the case, Beutel's comment makes one wonder why isn't the administration more involved in the development of the bill? And without their full participation, does that limit both the effectiveness and potential of the bill?

A former government official involved in the development of the current set of technology laws when told of OMB's lack of input only would say, that wasn't the way OMB always acted in the past.

A senior House lawmaker is raising the stakes on one of the biggest questions going around the federal IT community: Where is Richard Spires?

The Homeland Security Department's chief information officer has been "on elected personal leave" for more than a month. DHS is mum on what's going on. Rumors in industry are rampant. Senior DHS officials have called many of the published reports "great works of fiction."

So Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, wrote a three-page letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano asking both what's up with Spires and wanting more background on acting CIO and deputy CIO at DHS Margie Graves.

Thompson's letter stated while there is a lot of uncertainty around Spires' reasons for taking leave, the CIO's efforts to improve the management of the agency's technology is what's at stake.

"[I]t would seem that Mr. Spires' efforts to ensure compliance with departmental directives and Office of Management and Budget guidance and to use the department's Integrated Technology Acquisition Review (ITAR) process would be embraced," Thompson wrote. "Additionally because the ITAR process is designed to ensure that IT procurements meet architecture guidelines, are not duplicative and are properly staffed, this process should be welcomed in our current austere budgetary environment."

Thompson added DHS expanded ITAR reviews to all IT procurements.

"Without Mr. Spires' leadership, I am concerned that this effort to provide effective oversight of IT procurements will be abandoned," he wrote. "Unfortunately, such an outcome is not out of the realm of possibility considering that the department's former Joint Requirements Council, which reviewed acquisitions that cost between $50 million and $100 million simply stopped meeting in 2006 and has yet to be reinstated."