A Primer on the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA)

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The U.S. federal government’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently released its draft guidance for the implementation of FITARA. It will require strong, cross functional teamwork at each agency to implement it effectively. OMB’s recent guidance captures that movement.

As a consultant for various federal CIO’s for almost a decade, I view FITARA as a key milestone to improving the government’s IT and as an opportunity for CIOs to overcome barriers to their success in leading that effort.

Previous legislation aimed at the effective use of IT in government, such as the Clinger-Cohen Act (CCA) of 1996, resulted in a patchwork of controls implemented differently at each agency, and ultimately drove less accountability and improvement than was originally envisioned. OMB’s FITARA guidance, by comparison, is clear and specific. It establishes a common baseline for IT management at each agency, providing a solid framework for manageable and effective implementation of FITARA. Additionally, the push to roll it out with the Fiscal Year 2017 guidance for IT Investment Management has allowed for a more comprehensive approach.

Since its passage, there has been much debate about what FITARA really means to CIOs and other agency leaders. A key question is, what are the differences between FITARA and the CCA or other similar initiatives? There are three areas that I see as differentiators:

  1. More manageable scope - unlike the CCA, FITARA provides specific metrics and designated owners for the development of processes, and enforcement to confirm that the implementation and management of FITARA are achieved.
  2. Improved guidance - OMB took a holistic approach to developing guidance and engaged current and former CIOs, CFOs, CAOs, CHCOs, and other key stakeholders to facilitate a clear understanding of expectations and the underlying processes.
  3. Congressional support - Congressional interest remains high, and a number of FITARA’s key supporters are still involved and energized by the well-conceived OMB implementation guidance. Also, the specific benchmarks called for in the guidance will likely trigger ongoing GAO and Congressional oversight and interest over time.

I hope this post was helpful. Please stay tuned for more on FITARA and other federal IT governance initiatives in future posts.