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Federal CIOs need authority to improve IT efficiency

Kenneth Corbin | March 1, 2013
The soon-to-be-introduced Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act would grant agency CIOs control over federal IT budgets, encourage cloud computing and seek to reduce waste and under-performing technology programs.

The backers of a draft bill that would dramatically overhaul the federal government's roughly $80 billion IT operations and vest agency CIOs with new authorities are planning to introduce formal legislation later this month, with a committee markup process to begin later in the year.

At a hearing on Wednesday morning, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and author of the draft Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, spoke of the urgent need to consolidate responsibility for IT procurement across departments and agencies in an effort to eliminate wasteful or duplicative projects and improve efficiency.

"Every agency needs one chief information officer who's clearly in charge. There are 243 CIOs in 24 major agencies. The Department of Transportation alone has 35 CIOs," Issa says.

"That doesn't mean that the job is to lay off 34 CIOs, but there has to be a structure including a chain of command and including real authority to spend the money better, to be held accountable for that money, and ultimately what budget authority needs and a CIO needs is to stop quickly when that money clearly is not being as well spent as was anticipated," Issa says.

Issa's oversight committee has been soliciting input from industry and government stakeholders on the draft bill, which he intends to formally introduce in March before the House goes into recess later in the month.

Standardizing Federal IT

In addition to the budgeting authorities for agency CIOs, the bill would authorize the federal CIO Council to develop shared services and platforms to standardize IT applications across the government. The legislation would also seek to facilitate the transition to cloud-based services, encourage the use of open source software and accelerate the federal government's ongoing effort to consolidate its data centers.

Those proposals, which generally enjoy a measure of bipartisan support, come in response to the often-aired criticism that the government's approach to IT acquisition, development and deployment is rife with unnecessary expenses, excessive delays and outdated rules and policies.

"When it comes to the management of federal IT we can and must do better, whether it's commercial, off-the-shelf IT product management or major mission-critical custom IT programs. Today federal IT acquisition is a cumbersome, bureaucratic and wasteful--often wasteful--exercise. In recent decades, taxpayers have watched tax dollars evaporate into massive IT program failures that bear staggeringly high costs for astonishingly poor performance," says Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

"Far too many agencies expend precious dollars and time in creating duplicative, wasteful contracts for products and licenses the departments already own. The status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable," Connolly adds, noting that the budget crunch seems likely to get worse with a looming set of across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration that are set to take effect at the end of the week.


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