House Delays Reform of Federal IT Spending

The effort to make federal IT spending more transparent will have to wait until 2014.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to fund the U.S. military through 2014, but only after stripping out a bipartisan plan to overhaul the way government agencies buy and manage IT.

House members agreed in June to add the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) to the bill funding the U.S. military, which is undergoing its own cutbacks and organizational reforms as part of federal budget cuts.

FITARA was dropped along with a host of other amendments removed to streamline debate and approval of the defense-spending bill before Congress adjourns for the holidays Dec. 13.

Some military salaries, enlistment bonuses and other spending by the Dept. of Defense would have been held up if the defense bill were not passed by Dec. 31; no Congress in more than 50 years has closed out a calendar-year session without approving a defense-authorization bill, which is one reason so many bills unrelated to defense are attached as amendments to it, according to FederalComputerWeek.

FITARA – sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) – is designed to reform federal spending on IT by making lines of authority more clear on spending issues and requiring more detailed cost justifications and oversight.

U.S. agencies spend more than $81 billion per year on IT, “yet its use and deployment is full of duplication and failure,” according to explanatory documents from Issa’s office about the bill.

Lack of accountability or consolidated spending authority within agencies wastes as much as $20 billion per year, as demonstrated by program failure rates and cost overruns that plague between 72 percent and 80 percent of large federal IT programs, and the 47 percent of IT budgets go for the maintenance of obsolete or broken IT systems, according to the analysis by Issa’s office.

FITARA would require that most agencies create or modify the office of CIO to give more control over IT spending, and limits the ability of other officials to buy IT independently. It would also limit each agency to only one CIO, require that the CIOs of the 16 largest federal agencies be appointed by the President, and limit spending on IT that is not approved by the CIO or overseen by the General Accounting Office, Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, or other oversight authorities.

Even without riding on the inevitability of the defense-spending bill, FITARA stands an excellent chance of being passed by both the House and Senate as an independent bill during 2014, Rep. Gerry Connolly, (D-Va) told NextGov.com for a Dec. 11 story.

Its chances got even better following the scandal over failures and appallingly poor performance of the Web-based health-insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov that is at the center of the Obama Administration’s efforts at healthcare reform.

“We think this may have spawned something fortuitous and positive in terms of building broad support for a federal acquisition reform bill, which normally wouldn’t get this much attention and would not be seen as a very sexy topic,” Connolly told NextGov.com.

 

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