Lawmakers to Agencies on FITARA: Get It Together

Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va.

Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. Andrew Harnik/AP

A House oversight committee pushed IT leaders to set more ambitious upgrade goals after its fifth assessment of federal agencies’ technology.

In Congress’s fifth assessment of federal technology upgrades, lawmakers instructed agencies—the highest and lowest scorers alike—to try harder.

The House Oversight Committee questioned officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Energy Department about their performance on a Congressional scorecard assessing factors such as their ability to manage software licenses. USAID achieved an A-, the scorecard’s highest rating and a stark increase from a D in 2015. The Energy Department slipped from a C- to a D+.

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition and Reform Act requires agencies to assess their internal IT investments for risk, consolidate data centers wherever possible, and grant chief information officers more budget authority, among other steps.

This was the first year the FITARA scorecard included an assessment related to managing software licenses, which may have dragged down some agencies scores, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, noted during the hearing. Overall, three agencies improved, six dropped, and the Transportation Department and the Pentagon both received an F+.

Agencies also struggled to meet goals for optimizing their data center usage, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said in a statement. Overall, they’ve met only 65 percent of their goal for closing more than 4,000 data centers.

In questioning Energy’s CIO Max Everett, Connolly asked why Congress shouldn’t interpret the department’s score as a sign they’re “treading water, in the hopes that we’ll give up and stop looking.”

Energy received an F in data center consolidation, which is a key measure in “whether we are making progress,” Connolly added.

Everett, who has been at the department for about four-and-a-half months, said the department failed on that metric because “we haven’t done the job,” but his team aims to close 11 out of the 289 data centers Energy oversees. Connolly referred to that number as “modest” and urged the department set more robust goals.

USAID, which received the first A-rating on the scorecard, improved its performance “largely by working with [the Government Accountability Office] to better report” what they were already doing internally, Wade Warren, that agency’s acting deputy administrator, testified.

Still, Hurd pushed officials on what has been left unfinished. Asked about his awareness of activity on USAID’s networks, CIO Jay Mahanand said there was the “potential of shadow IT” and noted that the agency is in the first phase of deploying the Continuous Diagnostic and Mitigation system, which should be fully installed by February.

Hurd also pressed officials on their plans to set up internal working capital funds for modernization projects and suggested that future FITARA assessments would grade agencies on their ability to set those up. Hurd co-authored the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which cleared the House Tuesday and the Senate Thursday as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and directs agencies to operate those funds.

USAID’s Chief Financial Officer Reginald Mitchell said he’d be able to help the CIO set up such a fund and “develop the procedures and policies governing the operations.”

The House and Senate last week passed the FITARA Enhancement Act, introduced by Connolly and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., which extends some provisions of FITARA that were set to expire, such as data center reporting.

“Congress is willing to be a partner in meeting these goals but we will also continue to hold agencies accountable,” Connolly told Nextgov about the passage of the bill.