Federal CIO Clare Martorana confirmed today at the House Government Operations Subcommittee’s FITARA Scorecard 12 hearing that her office has received proposals from Federal agencies for $2.1 billion of IT modernization projects competing for Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) money.

Also at today’s hearing, subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Ranking Member Jody Hice, R-Ga., pledged to work together on possible changes to future scorecards.

Those were some of the top-line takeaways from the subcommittee’s July 28 hearing to discuss the results of the 12th edition of the FITARA Scorecard issued by the House Oversight and Reform Committee today.  The semiannual scorecard ranks the largest Federal agencies on progress over several IT-related categories.

TMF Bids Outstrip Funding Supply

Testifying as a witness at the subcommittee hearing, Martorana said that her office and the TMF Board are looking at 108 proposals from Federal agencies, totaling $2.1 billion, in response to a call in May for agencies to apply for some of the $1 billion in funding that TMF received as part of the American Rescue Plan.  Agencies were told to focus their proposals on high-impact areas, cybersecurity, citizen service improvements, and projects with enterprise-wide reach.

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The Federal CIO told committee members today that she is committed to modernizing Federal IT, and that the $1 billion infusion into TMF represented “just a down payment” on multiple-year modernization projects that Federal agencies have already identified.

At the present time, she said, “cybersecurity is our immediate priority in Federal IT.” She praised President Biden’s cybersecurity executive order for putting the government “on a good path” to make gains in that area.

Elsewhere in her testimony, Martorana emphasized that Federal IT modernization needs to result in making it easier for citizens to interact with the government more efficiently, along the lines of digital services now provided by businesses.  She said citizens’ digital interaction with the government should be “easy, convenient, secure, and fast” and added that an enterprise-wide approach to technology will be one of the keys to reaching that goal.

That kind of service, she emphasized, “is an expectation in the 21st century.”

At OMB, Martorana said her office is in the process of “rethinking our approach to Federal IT” by developing “playbooks for what already works,” collaborating with key stakeholders, and making moves to pair technologists with policymakers.

Connolly, Hice Talk FITARA Changes

Rep. Connolly characterized Federal agency grades on the latest FITARA Scorecard with some enthusiasm, noting that more agencies had earned better grades than worse, and emphasizing that “we must continue to strive to reap the benefits” of the scorecard process. “Despite some backsliding, the scorecard demonstrates continuing improvement in some areas,” he said.

He also pointed to a total of $23.5 billion of Federal agency savings and cost avoidances generated since 2015 by categories tracked by the FITARA Scorecard, including through eliminating duplicative software licenses, and reductions in Federal agency data centers.

On the latter point, Rep. Connolly strongly emphasized that the House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold the executive branch to the letter of the law on working toward closing data centers, rather than “optimizing” them under the policy adopted by the prior administration.

“This committee will insist that the law will be complied with in full,” he said. “We will not suffer any dilution” on the concept of data center consolidation, he said, or the metrics surrounding that. “We are prepared to pass official legislation if that is needed,” to achieve compliance with the law, he said.

Rep. Connolly – one of the leading voices in Congress in recent years for Federal IT modernization – took the opportunity of today’s hearing to drive that point home.

“When done well, Federal IT can save lives,” he said. “The fate of the world’s largest economy actually rises and falls with the ability of government to deliver services in an emergency,” he added.

Ranking Member Hice likewise praised the value of the FITARA scorecard process, saying that it helped to shed light on the “overriding question of are we spending our Federal IT dollars well.”

At the same time, he also said it was time to “take a fresh look at the entire process” and try to come up with different metrics that would reflect the success of legislative and executive branch policies, and make them quantifiable from agency to agency.  Rep. Hice also suggested during today’s hearing that consideration be given to additional scorecard mechanisms to shed more light on the cybersecurity status of individual Federal agencies.

“That is easier said than done,” Rep. Hice said, adding, “I’d like to take a look at these before we move on to FITARA [Scorecards] 13 and 14.”

Rep. Connolly pledged “of course” to work with Rep. Hice on possible scorecard changes going forward. “I definitely see the FITARA Scorecard as a work in progress,” he said, adding that his only note of caution would be to stop fully implementing oversight of the current grading categories.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.