Gleaning FITARA Lessons Learned

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide FITARA: What You Need to Know. Download the full guide here

No one individual or agency has all the answers to solving IT reform. That’s why there’s power in sharing knowledge, challenges and lessons learned. Let’s explore what government officials have learned during their FITARA implementation journey.

FITARA implementation is a team effort.

FITARA is not the responsibility of one person or a single office.

But the CIO does play a key role in spreading the good news and getting others to share the same message about the benefits of IT reform and how that translates into better business departmentwide.

An attendee at our GovLoop FITARA Forum shared that sometimes FITARA is presented with an ominous tone. The positive aspects of FITARA should be emphasized more, and that takes teamwork.

“If this is going to work, it can’t be the CIOs trying to elbow their way into their colleagues’ space,” Goldstein said. “It helps to have a CEO who says, ‘This is really good for the organization, because Mr. CFO, you won’t waste money, Mr. CAO, you don’t want to waste your time, and you really can’t do your job without the help of the CIO, so he’s here to help you.’

“I’m very fortunate that I have an undersecretary who has a vision for doing things at the enterprise level in NOAA, from an IT perspective. And that’s very helpful.”

You have to build professional relationships.

“It’s not just about what the paper says, it’s about the [actual] relationships you have with your CXO buddies,” Goldstein said.

“Once a month I’m meeting with the head of acquisition, the chief financial officer and the chief human capital officer. We discuss our shared interests.”

For example, Goldstein’s conversations with the CHCO focus on shaping the IT workforce. With the CFO, he discusses how they can improve the budget and spending plan processes. Both Goldstein and the chief acquisition officer share a common interest in improving acquisition. “Those kinds of personal relationships are really important.”

FITARA should enable agencies to further examine existing contracts to better understand the work involved.

One of the big challenges agencies face is tracking IT work happening under existing contracts.

“From a software perspective, it’s really easy to just generate new systems, and from a hardware perspective, it’s really easy to call something tech refresh that is in fact an expansion,” Goldstein said.

FITARA calls for greater oversight of all IT spending, including shadow IT, to address this kind of under-the-radar spending. CIOs and their staff should be asking more specifics around existing operations and maintenance contracts, and whether new applications, software or hardware will be added to the program. It’s not enough to track only new development programs because shadow IT can crop up in existing programs.

There isn’t a standard way to address this issue, but your agency may decide to do quarterly reviews or enforce better oversight of operations and maintenance programs to identify any areas of new spending.

Explore ways to improve data reporting.

FITARA requires agencies to collect and report on a lot of data, which will be challenging for agencies
to sustain using manual reporting processes.

Agencies have monthly and quarterly reporting requirements on IT risks, performance metrics, project activity, cost savings and more. To keep pace with that schedule, USDA is eyeing an automated process that would enable the department to input data from its internal system directly into OMB’s reporting portal, Max.gov.

The tool is called AgMax, and USDA has already figured out what it would take to enable this level of automated reporting. But there’s one roadblock standing in the way: funding. “We’ve identified requirements, we’ve presented those requirements to our vendor, but we don’t have the money to do it,” Anderson said.

That’s not the only reporting project the department wants to improve. Anderson is working with USDA’s enterprise architecture organization to identify all the other systems that support or are affected by FITARA. Here’s why that’s a big deal: The law requires the CFO and CIO to agree on some level of visibility into IT expenditures. USDA has a system for tracking that information but not everyone is putting data into the system. Some agencies within USDA have their own budget execution systems.

To resolve this issue, the enterprise architecture team is starting by identifying each of the areas FITARA addresses — such as budgeting, acquisition and project management — and mapping those reporting requirements to the systems used to support those areas. Anderson wants to know how many different systems are collecting data and if they are communicating with one another.

Under FITARA, CIO empowerment is exercised differently across agencies.

In an effort to get a better handle on IT spending at the Transportation Department, CIO Richard McKinney put the breaks on tech purchases for 120 days, or until component CIOs shared with him a comprehensive spending plan for the year.

Some of them already had plans. But for those who didn’t, McKinney made clear that his goal was not to hinder them. If they had good ideas about what they wanted to buy and could show that it aligned with DoT’s larger IT plans, McKinney said he would not try to impede them.

As you can imagine, “that generated quite a conversation, [but] it’s a good conversation,” McKinney said. “We’ve got to be more deliberative about what we’re doing,” he said. “I’m trying to get more to the cloud, and I don’t want to be buying more storage units and more servers.”

DoT is migrating to cloud-based email, which McKinney expects will free up 400 terabytes of storage. Having better visibility of what the department is spending on technology will be central to accomplishing the department’s IT goals, including cloud adoption.

At Commerce, the department’s Office of Acquisition Management “has revised the Commerce acquisition manual so that the CIO now participates in the review and approval of all acquisitions above $10 million, whether or not a program was initially determined to be IT,” said Cooper, who serves as Commerce CIO. “This is a significant change. Previous policy only required my office’s participation on acquisitions over $75 million.”

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