FITARA grading was tougher by design, official says

The most recent FITARA scorecard wasn’t a total wash — five agencies did manage to improve their scores, and another eight didn’t lose any ground. But 11 agencies saw their scores drop — the most ever. And nine agencies received a score of “D” or “F,” the most in two years. But that was expected; the process was designed to yield lower scores this time.

“It got tougher to get a higher grade, and we fully support that,” said Matt Lira, special assistant to the president for innovation, policy and initiatives at the Office of American Innovation, at the May 24 Think Gov conference in Washington D.C. “We’re not grading on a curve, we don’t want grade inflation. We actually made it harder to get a higher grade, but specifically, [the Government Accountability Office] and the chairman [of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s subcommittee on Information Technology] focus in on very tangible action. So the reporting structure, if you didn’t have a reporting structure as outlined in FITARA or the EO, you lost a full letter grade off the bat.”

There were other criteria that carried similar weight, Lira said, like compliance with the MEGABYTE Act of 2016. In fact, Lira said, if agencies had all done three simple things, starting with the CIO reporting structure, there would have been no Ds or Fs at all.

“They wanted to use [the FITARA scorecard] to reinforce administration policy to what tangible steps agencies take to get to the desired outcome,” Lira said. “The map is there. If agencies are interested in getting better scores, there’s very tangible specific things that they can do.”

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And there should be no confusion about what those tangible steps are, he said. Everyone is on the same page, from Congress and House Subcommittee Chairman Will Hurd (R-Texas) to President Donald Trump’s administration. Lira said he was very pleased with the bipartisan leadership during the May 23 hearing.

“The alignment between congressional oversight, statutory law, executive orders, presidential policy action, and I think the consensus of the broader ecosystem outside the government space is amazing,” he said. “The fact that we are all rowing toward the same strategic objectives is something I think we shouldn’t gloss over.”

Those tangible requirements are what tripped up the Agriculture Department, Lira said, particularly the reporting structure. That’s how USDA dropped from a C- to a D-.

But that’s also the reason USDA is now the home of the modernization centers of excellence. Lira said the administration wanted them to go where they could make a difference.

“There is a very tangible need to solve very specific tailored problems throughout the government,” Lira said. “That’s a capacity that government needs, and [the Office of Management and Budget] very specifically needs. But we also want to address the larger enterprise-level challenge here. And to do that it has to scale. And the only way to do that realistically is to work collaboratively with agencies and collaboratively with the private sector community that works with those agencies to deliver modernized technology as an outcome. That is the heart of the approach of the CoEs.”