Treasury seeing fruits of IT reforms ahead of FITARA implementation

The true gauge of the Treasury Department’s IT reform efforts can’t only be measured by the “D” grade on the report card recently issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

But the fact is Treasury has spent the better part of the last year preparing for the changes that came with the new Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).

Sonny Bhagowalia, Treasury’s chief information officer, said he’s taking an approach that is part governance and part operational improvements.

For instance, Bhagowalia said Treasury closed 17 out of 58 core data centers and another 104 non-core data centers. Treasury received new data from its PortfolioStat review and now is delivering new capabilities on many major IT projects in 100 days, down from 240 days on average.

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Treasury, like many other major and cabinet departments, is awaiting final approval from the Office of Management and Budget on its common baseline and implementation plan under FITARA.

So far the Agriculture Department and the National Science Foundation are the only agencies to have published their plans publicly.

Bhagowalia said Treasury received good feedback from OMB and is updating the final strategy to meet part of the law’s requirements by Dec. 31.

“A little bit more detail on making sure that you have formalized processes and policies in place that are documented and that you have them. Show us a little more evidence that you are doing A, B, C, D, E, F and G sort of thing,” Bhagowalia said. “The key thing is that we will work with them and get this thing done so it gets approved. I also appreciate the fact that OMB will not let anything get through unless you make the goal and make it happen. I think that’s an important thing and I love it.”

Federal CIO Tony Scott was clear at the House hearing on Nov. 4 that he would not “rubber stamp” any of the agency’s implementation plans.

“We have foundational things, but what FITARA does is not only look at vertical to go down bureau CIOs with the CIO, but it’s horizontal and longitudinal to go across the CXOs. For example, am I really reviewing all the acquisitions in the department? Currently we are not so that’s FITARA. Are we looking at how alignment with budget, and yes we are doing a lot of good things with the budget, but are we using the same terminology and are we tied to a strategy? That’s another opportunity. With the chief human capital officer could we have some areas where we could move the process a little bit faster to hire people into government?”

Bhagowalia said the key isn’t just setting up the frameworks, but driving the implementation down into the bureaus and verifying and validating the successes.

Along with the closing of data centers and the faster delivery of new IT capabilities, Treasury, over the last year, also has focused on changing the approach to how it’s spending its technology budget.

Bhagowalia said he’s been working with bureau-level CIOs to focus more on enterprisewide services. That effort, he said, has led to Treasury moving more money into efforts to develop new or modernize existing systems, and away from legacy technology.

Treasury increased its spending on new technology by 5 percent to 24 percent of its total IT budget throughout the last five years.

“If we can take some of these efficiencies and reinvest into development, modernization and enhancement, that makes it better,” he said. “The tech refresh programs of the past are gone so how do you refresh stuff? You have to do it through that. So I think that’s our approach.”

Beyond FITARA, Bhagowalia said he’s focused on several other initiatives.

“We want to be a sustainable and secure digital Treasury that makes sure we provide services,” he said. “We are now looking at this FISMA-high government cloud that would help us. We’re already in Amazon, but I think as people getting close to Federal Risk Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), that would be something to look at. We still have to have a mobile world where people can access the right information anywhere, anytime, securely and reliably, so we have to make that happen. The other is the infrastructure. The operations have to work and it has to be secure all the way through. We are looking at allowing people to do their mission and make that happen.”

Bhagowalia said he’s considering redesigning the Treasury.gov website so it has a mobile-first design.

“On the backend, we have to make sure we do shared services,” he said. “Treasury, first of all, has the T-Net program, which is very well done, one of the best in government in terms of 99.99% availability across 120,000 users and 860 locations. We also are doing stuff with shared services for 35 agencies.”