CIO on FITARA: The Right Solution

On Nov. 4, I testified before the joint subcommittees on Information Technology and Government Operations of the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform. The hearing was titled “FITARA’s Role in Reducing IT Acquisition Risk, Part II–Measuring Agencies.”  The other witnesses included Federal CIO Tony Scott, Treasury CIO Sonny Bhagowalia, General Services Administration CIO David Shive, and Dave Powner, Director, Information Management and Technology Resources Issues, Government Accountability Office. It was an honor and privilege to have been a part of the very constructive conversation that took place that day.

I came away from the hearing more convinced than ever that FITARA–the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act–is exactly the right solution at the right time and that we have an invaluable ally in Congress. Let me see if I can break this down for you.

  • The hearing reinforced my strong belief that FITARA has unprecedented bipartisan support. IT is not and never has been a red/blue field of battle. The serious IT issues the Federal government faces call for a united effort between the CIO community, our executive leadership, and Congress. And that is exactly the good news that I heard from the committee. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., told me after the hearing that he wants to be doubly sure the CIO community clearly understands there is “absolutely no daylight” between any of the committee members on these issues and that he hopes we understand this is a very rare and valuable set of circumstances. He really stressed that this is our moment and that we have to seize it.
  • It was really gratifying to hear that Congress wants to engage with the CIO community to explore ways in which potential IT savings can be reinvested in rebuilding and modernizing both our IT infrastructure as well as our business solutions portfolios. That is an opening the CIO community must take advantage of. Driving down cost and driving up service delivery can and should go hand in hand.
  • The preliminary FITARA scorecard the committee unveiled at the hearing is just the beginning of what we should expect will become an ongoing and rigorous oversight process. Much of the early discussion about FITARA has understandably been about the new authorities around HR, budget, and acquisition. I know much of DOT’s focus these past months has been about the precise mechanics of putting these authorities in place. But we can’t forget that these authorities are intended as a means to an end, and that it is the accountabilities built into FITARA we are going to be judged on. The initial report card focused on data center consolidation, incremental development, IT portfolio savings, and IT risk assessment. While the grades were generally poor, they clearly and fairly reflected the long road ahead of us. The CIO community needs to understand this and engage with Congress, GAO, and the Office of Management and Budget in establishing consistent and reliable measures of progress as we tackle these issues.

At the conclusion of the hearing, I thanked the members for FITARA, but more specifically for their willingness to engage with the CIO community around the ongoing implementation of this landmark legislation. I also thanked them for the constructive urgency they were communicating, and I shared with them that the leadership at DOT was approaching FITARA with that same urgency and the strong conviction that this is our last chance to get this right.

I believe that now more than ever.

Richard McKinney is the chief information officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation.