FITARA Hits Its 5-year Anniversary 

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An enhanced scorecard will drive better government services for citizens. 

Better information technology in government means better services for our citizens—everything from faster tax returns, to more intuitive telehealth for our veterans, to more streamlined command and control for our military.

When the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, known as FITARA, passed in December 2014, its goals were to improve agency management and implementation of IT and enable Congress and agency leaders to monitor progress in reducing duplication and achieving cost savings. 

At the time, many in the IT community recognized far too much money was being wasted on under-capacity data centers and IT projects that were delayed, over budget or didn’t perform as expected. Even so, many were also skeptical and predicted the law would have little impact. 

But that’s not what happened. 

Instead, the Office of Management and Budget, federal agencies, and Congress worked together to shift the culture at federal agencies. The result? Billions of taxpayer dollars saved. Reduced duplication. And major improvements to technology operations. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the accomplishments and lessons learned:

  • Infrastructure and business systems management were streamlined. Data centers were consolidated and duplicative systems like human resource systems and websites were eliminated, resulting in more than $3 billion in savings.
  • Far fewer IT acquisitions are taking the big-bang, waterfall approach. Now agencies are tackling acquisitions in bite-sized chunks to improve delivery.
  • Chief information officer authorities are significantly stronger. Some CIOs now report directly to the head of their agencies, so they’re no longer buried in bureaucratic layers. Relationships between CIOs and chief financial officers have improved. This puts the CIO in a better position to approve billion-dollar IT budgets, impact the mission, and recruit better talent.
  • The legislative and executive branches are working together far more than most expected.
    • OMB issued detailed implementation guidance following FITARA’s passage. 
    • Congress and the Government Accountability Office monitored agencies’ progress with the FITARA scorecard using OMB data in several categories to determine grades. 
    • The federal CIO embraced the transparency and data-driven approach to making improvements.
  • Progress took time—in most areas, it took at least two years to see significant gains.

The FITARA Congressional IT Scorecard has been an effective tool for driving these outcomes. Since November 2015, Congress has provided a transparent evaluation by giving agencies letter grades every six months. 

Initially, the grade was an average of four categories, including data center optimization. For the first scorecard, many agencies received Ds and Fs. Only two had Bs. Over time, the scorecard added three additional categories, including cyber, and the most recent scorecard indicated strong progress. For the first time, three agencies received As, and the average grade rose from a D to a C+. 

Five years later, we should take a moment to recognize and congratulate this collaborative effort that has begun to transform federal IT acquisitions. With this foundation, I believe we’re poised to make continued strides. As the IT world evolves, we need to constantly reassess new metrics for an improved IT scorecard. 

So, where do we go from here? 

  • Agencies must focus on mission modernization consistent with the President’s Management Agenda. This includes further elevating the CIO to a strategic business partner. To be most effective, focusing on mission-critical acquisitions means considering both customer satisfaction and accelerating the retirement of archaic legacy systems, which are costly and vulnerable. 
  • To achieve long-lasting improvements and be consistent with the PMA, we must bolster the federal IT and cybersecurity workforce. This includes adopting leading workforce development and management practices, such as expanding the use of critical hiring authorities and employing partnerships for talent exchange. 
  • Given relatively flat IT budgets from year to year, agencies need to take advantage of the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017 provision, which authorizes working capital funds. The legislation provides agencies with a way to reinvest savings to address unfunded technology priorities. But to date, few agencies have established these funds.
  • Finally, to assure transparency, agencies need an updated scorecard and/or metrics with clear targets for IT modernization. In the past, the FITARA scorecard has helped CIOs drive progress in key areas like data center consolidation, agile development and software licensing. It’s time to declare victory in several of these areas, remove some of them from the scorecard, and focus instead on revising the scorecard to be consistent with the PMA. This means adding categories like customer satisfaction, workforce development, and mission modernization—giving CIOs more control of mission-focused IT systems. 

As we mark FITARA’s five-year anniversary, we also should acknowledge the solid foundation it provides for the creation of an enhanced scorecard that will help us adapt to new challenges in federal IT—resulting in better government services to citizens. 

And that’s something worth celebrating. 

David Powner is director of strategic engagement and partnerships at MITRE. In his previous role as director of IT issues at the Government Accountability Office, Powner reviewed how IT investments were managed across multiple agencies and the establishment and implementation of FITARA.