FITARA Scores Reveal Areas for Improvement

Each year, the federal government invests more than $80 billion in IT projects. Often, the investments fail, result in cost overruns, or produce far less than hoped. To get its arms around these issues and overhaul government IT operations, in 2014, Congress passed the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). The act set benchmarks in four objective areas for 24 federal agencies, and scorecard grades (A-F) are based on data from the federal IT dashboard and quarterly savings reports. The objectives include:

  • Data center consolidation: Under FITARA, each agency (with a few exceptions) is required to provide OMB a data center inventory, strategy for consolidation, quarterly progress reports, a savings goal, and annual savings updates. The grade is based on savings realized as compared to planned savings.
  • IT portfolio review savings: Under FITARA, OMB must develop, and agencies must implement, a process to review IT investments to reduce waste and increase efficiency. The grade is based on PortfolioStat savings.
  • Incremental development: Since 2012, OMB has required major IT investments at each agency to deliver functionality every six months. This grade is calculated based on the percentage of an agency’s IT projects meeting this goal.
  • Risk assessment transparency: CIOs are required under FITARA to submit risk assessments for each major IT investment that also details information on the ability of the investment to reach its goals. For those IT investments considered high risk, the CIO must also conduct a review to identify and address causes of risk. The agencies that report the most risk score the highest in this area. 

The first scorecards were released earlier this month by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Technology, and the results weren’t great: Most agencies received an overall “D” on the four objectives, no agency received an “A”, and only two—the Department of Commerce and GSA—received a “B”. Three agencies received an “F”: NASA, and the Departments of Education and Energy. It should be noted that the scorecard is not intended to grade agencies against one another, but to instead provide a baseline against which agencies can be scored on their progress in the four objective areas.

Speaking at a hearing hours after the scorecard’s release, Rep. William Hurd, R-Texas, chair of the subcommittee, said “It’s not a secret that the IT acquisition and procurement process in the federal government is broken.” However, the subcommittee was quick to point out that they didn’t release the scorecard with the intent of punishing agencies, but instead to help them see which areas require the most improvement.

One of the biggest challenges facing federal agencies, according to the scorecard, is data center consolidation. More than half of the 24 agencies received an F grade in this category, with HUD, SBA, and USAID not indicating any planned data center consolidations at the time the scorecard was released. According to Hurd, this is an area in which agencies can quickly realize savings to boost their scores. David Powner, the director of IT management issues at GAO said that “Treasury and Transportation got Fs but we feel better about their Fs because they have high goals,” adding “some agencies that have As and Bs with low goals have achieved more than their goals, we don’t feel so good about those.”

The subcommittee also reported that agencies do not appropriately delegate duties to ensure the CIO has the proper authority within an agency, especially as it pertains to budgetary matters. U.S. CIO Tony Scott noted during the hearing that IT project implementation plans often have “a passive rather than active CIO role in IT budget execution activities.”

With the baseline now established, if you’re one of the many agencies working to improve your scorecard grade, here are some suggestions for improvement, as offered by Powner during an interview with Federal News Radio:

  1. Review the role of the CIO within your agency and elevate the position, especially as it relates to the budget. Allow your CIO to have both and oversight and an active role in budget issues.
  2. Encourage more interaction between the CIO, CFO, and acquisition officers.
  3. Increase/improve synergy within your agency.
  4. Don’t throw good money after bad. It’s okay to de-scope or kill projects at the appropriate time.

How do you feel about the grades handed out in the first scorecard? What is your agency doing to improve its score? Share with us in the comments!

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