New stand-alone federal IT reform bill focuses on CIO authorities

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Two Senate appropriators introduced Tuesday a stand-alone bill that would increase the authorities of federal chief information officers in the largest federal agencies, except the Defense Department.

The bill (.pdf) would place in statute a requirement for CIOs at the 24 CFO Act agencies (excepting the DoD) to participate in budget decisions regarding programs that have significant information technology components and the acquisition of commercial IT.

The bill, dubbed the Federal Information Technology Savings, Accountability, and Transparency Act, is sponsored by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). In a statement, Udall called current federal IT acquisition regulations obsolete, saying that the federal government is "hobbled by laws written in the days of floppy disks and telephone modems." Udall heads the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government; Moran is also on that subcommittee.

Under the bill, civilian CIO powers would be even greater over commercially available off-the-shelf items, with the bill stating that the CIO would have "authority over any acquisition" of COTS. In addition, CIOs would be empowered to ensure that annual IT appropriations are spent within agencies in a manner "specified by, or approved by" them.

Chief information officers would also get IT personnel hiring authority, and IT staff would report to the CIO "in a manner considered sufficient" by the CIO. Only one official within each agency or department would get the title of CIO; CIOs at the bureau or component level would get a new qualifier to their title, such as "deputy" or "associate."

The bill would also increase the scope of IT spending reporting to the Office of Management and Budget for purposes of inclusion into the Federal IT Dashboard. OMB currently requires cost and schedule data from agencies regarding "major" projects, which the White House bureau estimates adds up to about half of known total federal IT spending (not including classified spending). Under the bill, civilian CFO Act agencies would have to send status reports regarding at least 80 percent of their spending.

A Republican Senate staffer said the 80 percent number is meant to capture a wide scope of IT spending, but not burden agencies with having to report every small purchase.

The bill is narrower in scope than a reform bill sponsored in the House by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) with the support of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). That bill, known as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, would strengthen CIO authorities, but also introduce unusual policy measures such as governmentwide "collaboration centers" charged with serving as a focal point for requirements development for commonly used IT. It would also introduce a new evaluation criteria for federal procurements 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 to compete on non-price criteria such as quality, past performance and technical factors.

The prospects for FITARA passage have dimmed somewhat this month. Issa was successful in attaching a FITARA version as an amendment to the House-approved national defense authorization act in June, but a conference of the Senate and House armed services committees stripped it from a compromise version likely to become law.

For more:
- download the Federal Information Technology Savings, Accountability, and Transparency Act (.pdf)
- read a statement on the bill from Udall and Moran

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