Federal experts today agreed that while the FITARA Scorecard serves as a useful tool for agencies to track IT-related performance, many agencies struggle with funding to make meaningful progress on some FITARA grading categories.

During an ATARC event today, Tom Harrell, a senior IT policy analyst and consultant to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) CIO, Office of Administrative Management, argued that FITARA would make more of an impact if there was funding to assist agencies in their IT improvement efforts.

“It’s a great concept – it’s just that there’s no funding that comes with this whole idea,” Harrell said. “And so for us, especially when we’re going to enter a new disease pursuit for a therapeutic, we don’t have the money and the time and the resources to go and move this ball forward on FITARA and have people live.”

“I think the perspective held by leadership is a heck of a lot different than the boots on the ground,” he added. “It’s great that we’re having this discussion, but no matter how much of leadership signs on to ZTA, we have to somehow get it down to boots on the ground,” he said.

“And right now, even when we look at FITARA, those scores, are they really real? Because I mean, when I look out across some of the agencies that I know, the perception up here is a heck of a lot different than the one where everything is happening,” he said.

Joseph Ronzio, deputy chief technology officer, Office of Health Information, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, agreed with Harrell and said all government agencies are having a similar problem.

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Ronzio explained that the problem is exacerbated by the FITARA scorecard’s changing measurements. He said the current scorecard is “significantly different than it was 24 months ago.”

“As you keep changing the measures, is the funding following it before you get rated on it, or is it following it two or three years after you’re getting rated on it? And that becomes a challenge if you’re going to fund it after you make it a requirement,” Ronzio said. “Well, how did you build it? How did you develop it and how did you implement it? A lot of agencies will struggle to take things out of ‘high’ to follow up and implement the latest security if they don’t have money for it.”

Despite the other panelists’ funding concerns, Loren Smith, director of the Solutions Development Branch of the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Federal Acquisition Service’s Office of Information Technology Category, said he looks at FITARA in a more positive light.

According to Smith, the FITARA scorecard serves as a useful tool for agencies that lays out the questions of which agencies are being measured, and gives them an idea of IT areas that could use improvement.

“That helps you build a vision,” Smith explained. “The question is: if the FITARA score was not there, what would we be using to help us drive to an end result? And, I actually think the FITARA product or strategy is trying to help agencies get to where they need to go. I don’t think it’s a punishment.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.