Rep. Hurd puts CIOs on notice about FITARA implementation

Federal chief information officers should expect to be called before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee over the next six months.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), chairman of the subcommittee on IT, said Wednesday he plans on holding CIOs accountable for implementing the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).

“We are coming up with a FITARA scorecard so Congress uses its oversight role to ensure that these agencies are implementing FITARA the way they are supposed to,” Hurd said at the NextGov Prime 2015 conference in Washington. “Hopefully, it will be out in the fall. We are going to bring every agency in front of the subcommittee and ask the same questions. And guess what? This is going to be boring. It will not be must-watch TV. But these are the kinds of things we need to do to make sure the government is spending the taxpayers’ money wisely and also being efficient because the gains that we get from increasing efficiency is huge.”

Hurd said there will be some hearings and others will just have more formal meetings.

“Once we see the final outcome of the scorecard, then we will start talking about how we will use that and leverage that, and to what level does the performance of the scorecard require a hearing,” he said. “We are still working out the details.”

The committee is working closely with the Government Accountability Office in developing the FITARA scorecard.

Hurd said the committee is providing input to GAO because it wants to make sure the scorecard will be used and helpful in ensuring implementation.

“Part of it is simple things like where does the CIO sit within the larger organization? Are they part of the C-suite at the agencies? What is their plan on implementing FITARA? How are they doing with the data center consolidation efforts?” he said. “All the five major elements within FITARA, what are they doing to implement and how far are they? And having it in a way that is simple and easy to read so we can know who’s doing well, who’s not and who needs additional help.”

The GAO and the committee have promised strong oversight of the FITARA implementation.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the co-author of the bill, has said numerous times that he plans to hold agencies accountable over the long haul.

Connolly told In Depth host Francis Rose earlier this week that he’s pleased with the actions of federal CIO Tony Scott and the fact that Scott sees FITARA’s promise.

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“The underlying goal of FITARA isn’t to be another compendium of regulations and requirements on a federal manager, it’s actually to give him or her some new tools to change how they do business for the better,” Connolly said. “What our bill did was not to codify one [CIO], but it was to create a hierarchical structure that will eventually lead to that. We respect the different cultures and different missions both among and between different federal agencies. But we want to get us to the point where we have somebody with that title where the buck stops, and who is empowered to make decisions, to award contracts and to pull the plug when they are not working.”

Hurd happy to play the “heavy”

Hurd said he’s happy to be the “heavy” to ensure the decentralization that has plagued so many agency CIOs is reversed, and that’s where the scorecard and oversight come in.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of folks who want an exemption from this process. Well, no because guess what, the whole reason for having best practices is that people follow those types of things,” Hurd said. “There are not too many instances where I can see an exemption is necessary that they have such a unique environment where they can’t deal with these implementations. The exemptions for statistical organizations, there is nothing they are doing that is unique and requires this. I really hope it’s people not trying to avoid this oversight.”

Hurd joined Connolly in praising Scott’s implementation efforts so far.

Scott, who also spoke at the NextGov Prime event, said FITARA and other initiatives will begin to address the part of the federal IT environment that worries him the most: the spending pendulum swinging in the wrong direction where agencies are spending more and more on operations and maintenance of legacy systems.

Scott said OMB also will start looking at the fundamental architecture of the “heavy lifting” applications that run most agencies.

He said the goal is to move these applications off legacy systems and into the cloud.

“Because of sequester and other kinds of issues, we are not replacing and upgrading and transforming the very core of our federal government at a fast enough rate,” Scott said. “Without some help, without some incentive, I fear that trend will continue to go in the wrong way.”

The idea of investment is not lost on lawmakers.

Hurd said the continued high rate of spending by the government on legacy systems worries him.

But Hurd said more money for new systems is not always the answer. The case in point he highlighted is the Office of Personnel Management.

“There are so many things you can do that have nothing to do with money, he said. “So you are having computers that face the Internet touching your secure networks as well, and the way you do permissions and credentialing. That doesn’t require significant capital outlay; it’s how you implement your infrastructure. So the excuse that this is a money issue doesn’t always fly when you have such negligence in such other areas.”

Hurd said his subcommittee plans to hold another hearing on the data breach this fall.

“It’s going to be how has the new team been working to notify those who have been impacted and what steps have been taken to prevent something like from happening again?” he said. “We will never have the level of protection that most Americans want. There are some folks that believe they were impacted, but they haven’t seen the reports. I’ve gotten some questions when I was crisscrossing the district during August about this. We will be looking at this as well.”