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House approves FITARA version as part of national defense bill

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The House approved as an amendment to the fiscal 2014 national defense authorization act a version of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act lacking earlier language regarding open source software.

The full chamber approved the $638 billion authorization act (H.R. 1960) June 14 on a 315-108 vote, adding most FITARA provisions reported out by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March through a voice vote.

FITARA's sponsor, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) hinted during the March markup that further changes to the bill text could be in the works; in introducing FITARA as an amendment (.pdf), he wasn't constrained to use the exact committee-approved language.

Most the changes are slight, a committee analysis (.pdf) says, with one of the larger changes being deletion of language that would have required the Office of Management and Budget to issue governmentwide guidance regarding open source software acquisition, including "governmentwide standards for security, redistribution, indemnity, and copyright."

The FITARA (H.R. 1232) open source language came under criticism from proprietary technology vendor associations including TechAmerica, concerned that the proposal would create a preference for open source software.

The remaining language clarifies that software acquisitions "are to be made using merit-based requirements development and evaluation processes including the consideration of proprietary, open source, and mixed source software technologies," another committee analysis (.pdf) states.

It also provoked concerns that it would define the government as one entity for purposes of code redistribution, elevating the likelihood of government forks from open source projects, isolating agencies from improvements made in wider open source communities.

In introducing his amendment on the House floor, Issa emphasized that it would increase the position of headquarters chief information officers. "Never again will someone have that title and have no budget authority or responsibility. When a program goes right, the chief information officer is responsible; when a program goes awry, it's his or her job to make it right," he said (.pdf).

The bill and amendment language could make CIOs at the 16 largest civilian agencies presidential appointees or designees and legislatively require that they and CIOs at another 23 major civilian agencies have authority of agency information technology spending and the hiring of IT personnel.

The amendment also retains a section that would create a new evaluation criteria, called "fixed price technical competition" that would permit an agency solicitation to contain a predetermined price (based on market research or independent cost estimates) and ask companies compete on non-price criteria such as quality, past performance and technical factors.

For more:
- go to the THOAMS page for H.R. 1960
- download the FITARA amendment (.pdf)
- download a section-by-section analysis of the FITARA amendment (.pdf)
- download an analysis of amendment changes compared to the committee version (.pdf)

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