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IT Reform Bill Passes House

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. // Lauren Victoria Burke/AP File Photo

The largest reform in a decade to how the government builds and buys information technology systems passed the House on a voice vote on Tuesday afternoon.

Similar legislation is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act would limit each federal agency to one person with the title chief information officer and give that person authority over the agency’s IT spending.

It would also create centers of excellence across government to assist with complicated IT acquisitions and require the government to publicly post performance metrics on a much greater percentage of its IT projects.

The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., was bolstered by congressional and public ire at the poor performance of HealthCare.gov, the Obama administration’s online health insurance marketplace, which was largely unusable during its first two months online.

Issa and Connolly stressed, though, that the bill is aimed at fixing a more systemic failure in federal IT contracting, which has led many projects to run over-budget and past deadline and often to work poorly once they are delivered.

Auditors estimate that a large percent of the government’s $80 billion annual IT budget is lost to such inefficiencies.

“This bill isn’t about one failure; it’s about a governmentwide, longstanding failure that predates this administration,” Issa said.

“Would that the rollout of the health care website was a unique incident,” Connolly said. “It unfortunately characterizes most major federal IT procurement rollouts… In recent decades taxpayers have been forced to foot the bill for massive IT program failures that ring up staggeringly high costs but exhibit astonishingly poor performance.”

The Senate version of the IT Reform bill would also mandate a single CIO for each federal agency but it would only give those CIOs budget authority for commercial, off-the-shelf items and require that they play a major role in budget decisions about other IT purchases. Those differences will have to be ironed out in a House-Senate conference if the Senate bill is passed.

That bill, known as the Federal Information Technology Savings, Accountability, and Transparency Act, is sponsored by Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Mike Johanns, R-Neb. It was introduced in December, about two months after the HealthCare.gov launch.

The Senate bill would also give CIOs hiring authority for agency staff with IT responsibilities and require that those staffers report to the CIO to the extent the CIO deems sufficient. That bill is awaiting action in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The White House has avoided public comment on the bill, though federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel has said giving agency CIOs budget authority is less important than giving them “a seat at the table” when major decisions are being made.


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