Lawmakers, federal contractors and the administration have opened the debate on how urgently a legal update to the IT procurement system is needed. All sides agree that buying can be duplicative, some projects take too long and cost too much, and agencies don’t always get the best prices for commodity-like hardware.
But as widely reported, you won’t find agreement on the best way to tackle those classic problems. That’s why the proposed Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) from House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa is somewhat controversial. Among other things, the bill would:
- Make data center consolidation and cloud computing legal requirements
- Make defining commodity IT a legal requirement, then shoving most buying of it to blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) whose prices would be posted publicly. BPAs would get preference over GSA schedule contracts.
- Give CIOs at the department level way more power over IT budgets.
There’s a lot more, but the bill is only 49 pages and definitely worth reading.
Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, at the first hearing on the bill, told the committee he thinks the administration has the statutory authority it needs to carry out the reforms it first proposed in 2009.
Industry isn’t thrilled by that commodity idea. Companies selling products like storage, network equipment or servers are wary of being labeled commodities, which doesn’t merely imply but states outright that there is no differentiation between them.
The notion of giving departmental CIOs more say over IT budgets at the component and bureau level may have appeal to the CIOs and the Hill. Few do now in practice, and even fewer have the “seat at the table” of the secretary as envisioned by the 1996 Clinger Cohen Act. The practical problem with this is that Congress appropriates not only at the cabinet department level, but also at the program and component level. Contractors are used to doing business at all of these levels, and it’s not certain that centralizing spending authority will change actual spending patterns.
At the hearing, Issa and his colleagues asked questions, discussed the issues, but didn’t strongly push the bill as written. It was circulated among industry groups before the end of the year, and will no doubt be rewritten before introduction.
FITARA also includes oversight mechanisms and language favoring open source software, and it’s likely industry will weigh in for modification of these, too.
FITARA, should it be enacted, will follow two years of procurement innovation that came via the National Defense Authorization Acts for 2012 and 2013. The procurement environment will have moved incrementally but surely, just as budgets get tighter and the margin of error narrower.