Inside the Reporter’s Notebook: Communication breakdown over FITARA? Lawmaker wants answers from DHS

“Inside the Reporter’s Notebook,” is a bi-weekly dispatch of news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and the like.

This is not a column nor commentary — it’s news tidbits, strongly sourced buzz and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

As always, I encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions, and, of course, news to me at

There seems a small chasm being created between the White House and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee over the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).

Rich Beutel, the lead staff member on the majority side for the bill, asked Joe Jordan, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator, at the Coalition for Government Procurement conference last week about his thoughts on the bill.


Jordan offered only a general response about how important IT and acquisition reform is but gave no specific opinion on the bill.

When Beutel walked away from the microphone, he said loud enough for everyone to hear that Jordan should call him sometime.

After the panel discussion, Beutel said the committee has reached out to the Office of Management and Budget on four separate occasions asking for input or comments on the bill, but to no avail.

Federal chief information officer Steve VanRoekel testified on the FITARA in January, saying chief information officers have all the authorities they need in the current laws to get the job done. He said the only change needed was how Congress appropriated money for IT programs.

So, maybe it’s just Jordan who the committee is waiting to hear from.

Jordan offered this further but equally opaque comment on Beutel’s question and follow-up comment by email, “The administration is committed to maximizing the value of every federal taxpayer dollar spent in federal contracting. Specifically in the space of information technology, we have shown progress and success in maximizing value for the American people through initiatives such as PortfolioStat and strategic sourcing. We appreciate the committee’s attention to this issue. We are strongly committed to these issues, and look forward to working with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to achieve greater efficiencies in the procurement and delivery of information technology.”

A committee spokesman didn’t shine any more light on what seems to be a minor communication breakdown.

“FITARA has been a bipartisan effort and the committee looks forward to OMB’s input on the legislation,” the spokesman said.

No matter the case, Beutel’s comment makes one wonder why isn’t the administration more involved in the development of the bill? And without their full participation, does that limit both the effectiveness and potential of the bill?

A former government official involved in the development of the current set of technology laws when told of OMB’s lack of input only would say, that wasn’t the way OMB always acted in the past.

A senior House lawmaker is raising the stakes on one of the biggest questions going around the federal IT community: Where is Richard Spires?

The Homeland Security Department’s chief information officer has been “on elected personal leave” for more than a month. DHS is mum on what’s going on. Rumors in industry are rampant. Senior DHS officials have called many of the published reports “great works of fiction.”

So Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, wrote a three-page letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano asking both what’s up with Spires and wanting more background on acting CIO and deputy CIO at DHS Margie Graves.

Thompson’s letter stated while there is a lot of uncertainty around Spires’ reasons for taking leave, the CIO’s efforts to improve the management of the agency’s technology is what’s at stake.

“[I]t would seem that Mr. Spires’ efforts to ensure compliance with departmental directives and Office of Management and Budget guidance and to use the department’s Integrated Technology Acquisition Review (ITAR) process would be embraced,” Thompson wrote. “Additionally because the ITAR process is designed to ensure that IT procurements meet architecture guidelines, are not duplicative and are properly staffed, this process should be welcomed in our current austere budgetary environment.”

Thompson added DHS expanded ITAR reviews to all IT procurements.

“Without Mr. Spires’ leadership, I am concerned that this effort to provide effective oversight of IT procurements will be abandoned,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, such an outcome is not out of the realm of possibility considering that the department’s former Joint Requirements Council, which reviewed acquisitions that cost between $50 million and $100 million simply stopped meeting in 2006 and has yet to be reinstated.”

So Thompson wants to know why Spires has been on leave since March 15 and whether he’s expected to return. He also asked about played a role in Spires’ “chain of command” regarding the decision for the CIO to take leave.

A DHS official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agency has received Thompson’s letter and will respond appropriately.

As for Spires, the official said, “He’s on elected leave, and for personal and privacy reasons we can’t go into why he may have elected to take leave.”

Thompson also asked about the qualifications of Graves, which surprised people in and out of government.

The congressman asked four separate questions about Graves, including whether she was a contractor at DHS before being hired.

The facts about the Spires situation still are murky. If anyone really knows what happened, they aren’t talking. Most of the rumors going around the federal community are way off. It’s not about testimony or an argument with the secretary.

Spires isn’t talking-he didn’t respond to an email seeking further comments and clarifications.

And the letter from Thompson only adds to the speculation and rumor.

The White House is turning up the heat on agency deputy secretaries to meet the government’s cross agency cybersecurity goals.

Andy Ozment, speaking at the McAfee Public Sector Summit earlier this week, said the President’s Management Council held multiple meetings where cybersecurity was a major topic of discussion.

The administration wants more progress on the three major cross-agency priority goals: continuous monitoring, two-factor authentication using smart cards based on Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 and implementing the Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) initiative.

Ozment said the goal is establish clear priorities for agencies by pushing them down through the deputy secretaries.

This is a similar approach to what the Bush administration did through the PMC and the President’s Management Agenda scorecards. Many believe the PMC’s attention was a difference maker between real and sustain progress and lip service progress.

Additionally, Ozment said CIOs don’t feel empowered in their oversight of cybersecurity.

“There are some CIOs who like to say, I don’t know how public they are with this so I will not give the exact number, but there is a department CIO who will say that they have a single digit percentage of my department’s IT budget under my direct control,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to have a coherent department approach to IT, much less cybersecurity, when you have that small of a lever with respect to the rest of the department.”

So by engaging the leadership at the highest levels, the White House hopes to change the conversation and therefore improve the environment.

A White House official offered more details on the PMC meetings in an email after the event.

“[R]ecent President’s Management Council meetings have addressed cybersecurity: one meeting was devoted solely to cybersecurity; the other meeting included cybersecurity as one topic among several,” the official said by email. “Finally, every other monthly CIO Council meeting is now dedicated to cybersecurity.”

Out&About The Government IT Executive Council 2013 summit takes place Monday in Baltimore. Don’t miss Federal News Radio’s Tom Temin moderating a panel on DoD/VA interagency program office. Also on tap, an Ask the CIO panel with representatives from VA, Commerce, NIH and EEOC.

TechAmerica holds its annual CIO Survey conference Thursday. Among the guest speakers there, Lisa Schlosser from OMB, Joe Klimavicz from NOAA and Todd Park, the federal chief technology officer. Deltek is holding an event on the new OASIS contract on Thursday with GSA’s Jim Ghiloni giving the keynote.


April 12: A deeper dive into the 2014 budget

March 22: A deeper focus on strategic sourcing, boosting acquisition and cyber workforces

March 11: Barry West returns, two CIOs leaving, Einstein cyber initiative faces delay