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House Passes Federal IT Reform Yet Again, This Time With Defense Bill

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. // Carolyn Kaster/AP

This story has been updated with details about the amendment and with comment from Sen. Tom Udall.

A fundamental overhaul of how federal agencies build and buy information technology systems passed the House on Thursday for the second time this year.

The chamber in February approved the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, which among other reforms would limit each federal agency -- including the Defense Department -- to one person with the title chief information officer and give that person authority over the agency’s IT spending.

This time around, the legislation was tacked on as an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which the House approved by a vote of 326-98. A similar measure made it into the Defense bill last year but was stripped out at the last minute in December, when lawmakers also cut more controversial amendments -- including one addressing sexual assault in the military -- to ensure the bill would pass both the House and the Senate.  

The amendment approved Thursday differs somewhat from the bill that passed in February, according to a Hill staffer who asked not to be named. The new legislation omits a requirement for a pilot program on interagency collaboration and a plan for acquisition centers for excellence, the staffer said.

The urgent need for federal IT procurement reform became a national story last year, after the cumbersome system’s limitations were blamed in the failed launch of HealthCare.gov. Legislation has consistently had the backing of both Democrats and Republicans. In the House, FITARA has been jointly sponsored by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Issa on Thursday applauded the House for it’s latest passage of FITARA. “We spend more than $80 billion a year on federal IT systems, yet the cost overruns and failure rate for these programs is as high as 80 percent,” he said. “By streamlining responsibility and centralizing budget authority, this bipartisan legislation will go a long way to increasing accountability and cutting waste.”

A Senate version of IT reform introduced in December would also mandate a single CIO for each federal agency but it would limit their budget authority somewhat, compared to the House version, while still requiring them to play a central role in all IT budget decisions. 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.

Udall is considering attaching that legislation to the Senate Defense authorization bill, according to his spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm. "He’s also urging the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to consider it," she said. "Sen. Udall feels we should act on it sooner rather than later." 

The White House has not commented on specific IT reform legislation, but federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel has said that giving agency CIOs budget authority is less important than giving them “a seat at the table” when major decisions are being made.

The Senate Armed Services Committee began marking up its own 2015 Defense authorization bill on Wednesday.

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