Enhancing the FITARA scorecard

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Opportunities exist to enhance the FITARA scorecard to ensure its continued relevance and to keep pace with technology changes.

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, commonly known as FITARA, passed in December 2014, with a focus on CIO authorities, enhancing transparency, risk management, portfolio reviews, data center consolidation, strategic sourcing, enterprise agreements and purchasing programs. Close on the heels of its enactment, Congress created the FITARA Scorecard, which grades federal agencies based on their performance of FITARA-related reform and improvement activities. 

This year, ACT-IAC created a working group of former federal technology leaders, all now successful industry executives, to evaluate the FITARA Scorecard and identify potential enhancements to ensure its relevancy and to keep pace with technology changes. The work of the group resulted in the recent release of an ACT-IAC report, Recommendations for Evolving the FITARA Scorecard

FITARA remains important legislation and the FITARA scorecard provides a way to maintain focus on the act's imperatives, as the things that we measure are the things that we focus our time and attention on. That said, the pace of technology change is relentless, and the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of staying abreast of those changes. There was a direct correlation between progress in technology modernization and the ability of agencies to rapidly adapt to the virtual technologies needed to thrive amidst the pandemic. The pandemic also reinforced the importance of being resilient in the face of continuing uncertainty, whether it be the uncertainty of the Federal budget or the uncertainty of the next unexpected disaster or health-care challenge. 

The scorecard has demonstrated over the years that performance measurement does shine a spotlight on needed changes and a look at scorecard trends reveals improvements that have been made in areas like data center optimization and software licensing. The ACT-IAC report looks at the next set of outcomes that should be tracked to continue to accelerate technology implementation in government.

The report offers practical enhancements to the FITARA Scorecard, to include:

  • Moving to the cloud, but recognizing that IT modernization needs to be about more than just moving infrastructure to the cloud, it must also focus on retiring, replacing or refreshing legacy systems
  • Cybersecurity measures that help us embrace a web-based, virtual world and focus on new approaches like Zero Trust, robust identity management and data-level security
  • The use of modern system development practices like Agile and DevSecOps to both improve the delivery of capabilities and address the imperative for improved customer experience 
  • Recognizing the value of establishing working capital funds and also the importance of implementing activity-based costing
  • Continuing to address CIO authorities and understanding that there's a difference between having a “seat at the table” and having a "voice at the table;" and with technology woven into every mission area, it's more crucial than ever that the CIO is a business change champion for the organization and integrally involved in the budget and acquisition processes
  • Attracting and retaining the technology workforce of the future is a top priority and should be added as an area of emphasis in the scorecard. 

We must move from a culture of oversight to a culture of outcomes. Counting data center closures may not necessarily have an impact on IT modernization, but checking in on the progress of agency IT modernization plans will definitely help drive results. "Gotcha" moments when initiatives fail may be momentarily satisfying but they do not advance the ball. On the other hand, shining a spotlight on agency-developed modernization plans that reflect agency mission priorities and then measuring the progress of those plans will have a significant impact on advancing technology modernization, cybersecurity and customer experience.  Similarly, it’s time to move away from scorecard measures that arbitrarily require some agencies to get a grade of "D" or "F," regardless of whether progress is being made—if our goal is to encourage outcomes rather than assess blame.

FITARA is important and given the size and complexity of the federal government, there is still work to be done. As the world has changed, so too must the processes and priorities that measure FITARA implementation. And given the fact that the vast majority of the over $90 billion spent annually on federal IT ends up being spent by the private sector, we must continue to improve our acquisition processes and our ability to bring to government the innovative approaches and solutions found in the private sector. 

David Wennergren is CEO of the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), and a former Department of the Navy CIO and Vice Chair of the Federal CIO Council.

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