FITARA in play in House defense bill

The House is revisiting IT reform as part of the annual Pentagon policy measure, but it's not clear if the Senate will play ball.

Image of the Pentagon

Call it the federal IT bill that wouldn't quit. The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act is getting another chance at passage in the defense bill set to be debated in the House of Representatives.

In its current form, the bill would expand agency CIO authorities over components and bureaus at federated departments, make the post a presidential appointment, and enable the use of multi-year revolving funds to pay to add flexibility to commodity IT acquisition. FITARA also would enshrine the goals of the Federal CIO's data center consolidation plan into law, and urge the government to continue transitioning from legacy systems to commercial cloud computing environments.

The measure most recently passed the House in February as stand-alone legislation. However, the Senate has been slow to pick up the measure. The committee of jurisdiction, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel chaired by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) advanced a separate data center consolidation bill and has had talks at the staff level about moving the broader bill. A version of FITARA has also attracted bipartisan support from Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) on the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee. A Capitol Hill staffer said that there was no consensus among senators about what the framework for a final bill.

The Obama administration has been lukewarm at best about FITARA. In recent comments to reporters, federal CIO Steve VanRoekel said the bill "doesn't take us all the way we need to go." While the administration may have substantive issues with the bill, there could also be a political element. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a chief supporter of the measure in the House, is also one the administration's fiercest GOP foes. It's instructive to look at the recent Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, an Issa-backed measure that passed the House and Senate essentially without opposition. Obama signed the bill quietly on a Friday night, without ceremony, fanfare, or even an email to reporters.

FITARA may face an easier road to enactment if it can be attached to the fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill. It was included as a title in last year's defense policy measure, and had support on the Senate side from a bipartisan group that included members from the Senate committees currently in talks about the measure. But it was pulled late in the process in the interest of passing a "clean" bill by the end of the year.

The revived FITARA, which no longer includes a pilot project to coordinate cross-agency acquisition of commonly used business infrastructure and a government-wide acquisition center project, won the early support of the IT Alliance for Public Sector at the Information Technology Industry Council. ITAPS Senior Vice President Trey Hodgkins wrote in a letter to sponsors Issa and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) that the group "believes that this amendment takes a significant step in the right direction and would encourage the continued effort to achieve broader coordinated acquisition reform."