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Promoting Intra-Agency Collaboration to Embrace FITARA

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

“I’m struggling to wrap my head around the concept of: What doors do I knock on? Who do I go to? How do I get the support I need?” That’s what we heard from an attendee at our GovLoop FITARA Forum, and we know there are others who feel this way. If you’re looking for insight on who’s collaborating around the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act and how they’re doing it, these tips are for you.

How has FITARA improved intra-agency collaboration?

People are talking more and developing relationships across their agencies.

“All the CXOs are now talking on a more regular basis,” said Joyce Hunter, Deputy CIO for Policy and Planning at USDA. “We’re actually getting up out of our chairs and going downstairs or upstairs and having regularly scheduled meetings so that we can talk about what’s going on in the agency, and we’re not surprised by anything that goes on.”

How CIOs discuss IT in those conversations is also changing. “If you say, ‘enterprise architecture,’ people run the other way,” Hunter said. “We have to talk with business [in mind] first, and then under girth with IT.”

Which offices and executives are required to collaborate under FITARA?

In OMB’s FITARA implementation guidance, you’ll see referencesto CXOs, a casual term that has evolved to encompass senior agency officials, including chief human capital officers, chief financial officers, chief acquisition officers, chief operating officers (deputy secretary, undersecretary for management, assistant secretary for administration, or an equivalent), CIOs and bureau CIOs.

All of these executives and their respective offices and staff play important roles in making FITARA implementation successful. They must collaborate to strengthen the IT acquisition workforce; better track IT spending; improve budgeting and reporting; deliver IT projects in small increments; improve oversight of the department’s IT portfolio as well as the health and management of major IT projects. These are tasks that cannot be accomplished by the CIO alone.

But it’s inevitable that CIOs will play a key role because FITARA is all about IT reform. It’s vital that CIOs not only have a seat at the table with other senior executives but also a voice at the table to discuss IT-related issues with their counterparts and higher-ups, such as the agency head or deputy secretary. For too long, CIOs have been viewed as IT service providers rather than strategic business partners, and that’s why CIO empowerment under FITARA is a big deal. Any departmentwide effort of this magnitude requires strong leadership at all levels.

How do you bring all of those people to the table?

A great way to bring people together is through existing management councils or boards within your agency.

The goal is not to create new boards and bureaucracy but to figure out how to take advantage of current structures, identify the key players, find out their interests and build relationships among the group over time. FITARA implementation is about people-to-people interaction. Plus, collaboration isn’t just good for business, it’s required under the law.

At USDA, for example, the department uses a new integrated IT governance framework (read more about it on Pages 2 and 3 of the department’s FITARA Common Baseline Implementation Plan). The department uses multi-disciplinary reviews at the agency, department and secretary levels to ensure IT investments align with USDA’s overall goals, strategies, objectives and mission needs.

Consider this: “nearly 100,000 employees deliver more than $144 billion in public services through the department’s more than 300 programs worldwide,” according to the agency’s baseline implementation plan. IT enables these services, and “USDA needs to respond effectively to the challenges posed by the diversity, complexity, and volume of IT investment proposals brought forward by various stakeholders throughout the department.”

That’s where FITARA comes in. It brings everyone together for a single purpose: to buy IT better, said Joanie Newhart, Associate Administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

What are the challenges to implementing FITARA?

Change management is one of the greatest challenges agencies face.

FITARA requires adjustments to current budgeting, acquisition and HR processes, and these changes can make people uncomfortable. “We see some relationships improving [between bureau and department CIOs], and we see some agencies where the bureaus and components are not cooperating,” said Dave Powner, Director of Information Technology Management Issues at the Government Accountability Office. “Some CFOs are concerned about losing power. But it’s not about losing power; it’s about working as a team and accomplishing agency missions.”

The other challenge: implementing FITARA with limited personnel and financial resources. Flip Anderson, Executive Director of FITARA Operations at USDA, estimated FITARA implementation for the first year would cost about $3 million.

Anderson’s budget doesn’t come anywhere close to that number, but he’s hoping some funding will come through the president’s fiscal 2017 budget request.

Working across offices to meet reporting requirements and deadlines has its challenges. Remember all the CXOs who are involved in making FITARA successful? They all have to report on their progress and complete required tasks in addition to their regular jobs. That can be a recipe for delays and incomplete responses to OMB requirements. Departments had until April 30, 2016, to update their FITARA self-assess- ments and identify any obstacles or shortfalls in complying with OMB’s implementation guidance. In the future, these reports will be due annually.

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