The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously passed legislation on Wednesday that would mark the most significant reform in more than a decade to the way the government purchases information technology.
The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act would make agency chief information officers presidential appointees. It would also grant them authority to shift funding between technology projects, a power now only granted to the Veterans Affairs Department CIO.
The legislation was jointly sponsored by Oversight Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., ranking member of the committee's government operations panel. It’s now on its way to the full House for consideration. Complementary legislation has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
The IT Reform Act could save 10 times the $80 billion the government spends on IT annually by reducing government’s reliance on outdated IT systems, by helping agencies make smarter decisions about new purchases and by raising the government’s use of bulk purchasing and interoperable systems, Issa said during Wednesday’s committee business meeting.
The bill also would require that only one person in each agency holds the title CIO and that that CIO has a direct line to the agency secretary on important matters. Having a single agency CIO will make that official more accountable, Issa and Connolly both said, noting that some agencies now have more than a dozen CIOs which dilutes that title’s power.
Connolly called the IT Reform Act “some of the most groundbreaking legislation of the past 20 years” related to government acquisition Wednesday and praised Issa for developing the legislation in a bipartisan fashion.
Issa floated an earlier version of the IT reform Act in September 2012, which he and Connolly revised significantly after collecting feedback from government and industry officials.
Industry groups, including TechAmerica, refused to support the initial bill draft, claiming it created unnecessary bureaucracy and privileged open source software over competing proprietary software. Those groups offered softer criticism of the bill draft that passed the oversight committee Tuesday, saying some sections of the bill are redundant and other sections haven’t been sufficiently reviewed by industry.
In testimony before the oversight committee in January, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said he does not believe new legislation is necessary to improve federal IT performance.
Issa plans to continue gathering public feedback on the legislation before it reaches the House floor, he said, specifically leaving the door open to revising the language regarding open source software. Nextgov, in cooperation with committee staff, has created a Web page where users can comment on the bill.
He noted that it’s important that the final bill encourages agencies to consider open source as an option, he said, but open source should not receive a competitive advantage.
“The window for feedback is not shut,” he said, “but it is time to advance to the next stage.”
The reform act also would:
- Create a collection of agency-based Assisted Acquisition Centers of Excellence that other agencies may consult regarding particular categories of IT purchases.
- Build a Federal Infrastructure and Common Application Collaboration Center based inside the Office of Management and Budget that would serve as a “tiger team” to assist agencies with tricky acquisitions.
- Promote broader use of “bid to price” contracts in which an agency states the price it plans to pay for a good or service and then invites vendors to compete based on quality.
- Broaden the government’s cadre of IT and acquisition experts, partly by mandating new plans from OMB to make those jobs attractive to people outside government and to demonstrate a clear career path in the fields.
- Give agency chief information officers flexibility to establish working capital funds to help pay for the transition to cloud-based computing services.
- Require agencies to report more fully on the cost savings achieved by consolidating federal data centers.
- Mandate that roughly 80 percent of federal IT investments are tracked on the Federal IT Dashboard, compared with about 50 percent that are tracked on the dashboard currently.
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