10 Ways FITARA Guidance Empowers CIOs — Equally

Nowadays, everyone has an opinion about federal information technology — how projects should be managed and whether chief information officers have adequate authority to do their jobs.

The truth is that all CIOs are not empowered equally. Many argue the culprit is not the nearly 20-year-old law that created the position but rather inconsistent implementation of CIOs’ authorities across departments and sub-agencies. The good news is government has a second chance to get it right.

In an effort to elevate CIOs across government, Congress passed the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) in December as an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The law makes clear that CIOs are responsible for reviewing and approving department IT contracts, and they must also play a more directly role in hiring bureau-level CIOs.

Now comes the real work.

On Thursday, the Office of Management and Budget released proposed guidance for implementing the law, based on extensive feedback from CIOs, executive councils of chief acquisition, finance and human capital officers, senior agency executives, industry, academic and others. OMB is also encouraging the public to comment on the proposed guidance this month via email (at [email protected]) or through GitHub.

The guidance establishes common baseline roles, responsibilities and authorities for department CIOs and senior officers who manage IT. It also requires agencies to complete a self-assessment and plan by mid-August that details how agencies will implement those roles and responsibilities by the end of the year. The assessments will be updated annually.

“The historic nature of FITARA and the opportunity that it presents to create lasting, positive change in the Federal government makes getting broad feedback from this community and the public even more vital,” OMB notes.

The guidance is extensive and definitely worth reviewing, even if you don’t work in IT. If your program relies on IT resources, then you should understand what FITARA could mean for you and your team (Read the FAQs here). The guidance also fleshes out the scope of federal IT resources and notes continued efforts to expand and train IT cadres, improve governmentwide software purchases and enhance PortfolioStat reviews and reporting.

Under the proposed guidance, department-level CIOs should be exercising their new authorities no later than Dec. 31. Here are a few of the common baseline responsibilities and processes:

  1. The CFO, CAO and CIO will participate in the planning, programming, and budgeting stages for agency programs that include IT resources (not just programs that are primarily IT oriented).
  1. The CIO will report to the agency head.
  1. The CIO must approve the IT components of any plans, through a process defined by the agency head that balances IT investments with other uses of agency funding.
  1. The CIO and program managers will share responsibilities to ensure that legacy and on-going IT investments are appropriately delivering customer value and meeting the business objectives of programs.
  1. The CIO defines the development processes, milestones, review gates, and the overall policies for all capital planning and project management and reporting for IT resources.
  1. The CIO reviews all cost estimates of IT-related costs and ensures all acquisition strategies and plans that include IT are applying adequate, incremental development principles.
  1. The CIO may recommend to the agency head the modification, pause or termination of any acquisition, investment or activity that includes a significant IT component, based on the CIO’s evaluation. Those recommendations must take into account the terms of the relevant contracts and applicable regulations.
  1. The CIO will be involved in the recruitment of any new bureau CIO and approve selections.
  1. The agency head will work with the CFO, CIO and program officials to define how leadership works with the CIO to plan an overall portfolio of IT resources that achieve program and business objectives and to develop sound estimates of the necessary IT resources for accomplishing those objectives.
  1. The CIO and CHCO will develop a set of competency requirements for IT staff, including IT leadership positions, and develop and maintain a current workforce planning process to ensure the department can anticipate and respond to changing mission requirements, maintain workforce skills in a rapidly developing IT environment, and recruit and retain the IT talent needed to accomplish the mission.

The proposed guidance acknowledges that CIOs can’t do and oversee all things without help. “The CIO may designate other agency officials to act as a representative of the CIO,” expect for budget approving and appointment bureau CIOs, the guidance notes.

The Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, and portions of other agencies that operate national security systems are not subject to all provisions of FITARA. Those agencies will meet with OMB to clarify how they should implement the guidance and whether alternative requirements or exceptions will be made.

What are your thoughts on the proposed OMB guidance? Share your comments below.

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