The 113th Congress, infamous for accomplishing very little during its two years in session, appears close to bringing home one piece of bipartisan reform that could save taxpayers many billions of dollars in coming years. The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), passed the House earlier this year and stands a good chance of making it through the Senate as well.
FITARA, as the bill is known, has passed the House before, only to die in the Senate. But this time around its sponsors are hopeful it will be attached to the must-pass Defense Department authorization bill pending in the Senate and find its way to President Obama’s desk. Last week, Connolly told NextGov.com that he believes he and his colleagues have educated enough Senators about the need for the bill that its chances have improved.
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In an email Monday, a spokesperson for Rep. Issa was less optimistic, saying only, “It remains a possibility.”
Scott Cox, a legislative analyst with ASI Government, which consults with government agencies on acquisitions, said that while passage in the Senate is far from a sure thing, key players have signaled that they believe the issue is important and needs to be addressed.
In a summary included in the text of the report transmitted by the House to the Senate, lawmakers wrote, “Our oversight hearings confirmed that despite spending more than $600 billion over the past decade, federal IT investments too often run over budget, behind schedule, or never deliver on the promised solution or functionality. Indeed, industry experts have estimated that as much as 25 percent of the annual $80 billion spent on IT is attributable to mismanaged or duplicative IT investments.”
Among other things, the bill would give the Chief Information Officers of federal agencies more responsibility, and require more accountability, for how their IT dollars are spent. Surprisingly, federal CIOs currently don’t always have full control over the acquisition of IT products.
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The bill would also consolidate the federal government’s 3,133 data centers that in addition to spending some $450 million on electricity alone prevent government agencies from implementing new and more efficient practices for such things as sharing data across agencies.
Other sections of the bill would seek to eliminate duplicative purchases of software and hardware that can leave the government paying for equipment it can’t use, and takes other steps to streamline the acquisitions process.
“FITARA attempts to increase accountability, transparency, and management of federal IT spending,” said Scott H. Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight. “This is sorely needed as we see too many IT projects over budget and behind schedule. Consolidation of IT plans and spending will help but we also need to make sure that we are buy the latest IT solutions rather than out-of-date products or services. Keeping up with the pace of IT will be challenging, but adopting of some of these reforms should help.”
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The current state of affairs, he said, looks nothing like that.
“Almost to the day that we procure IT, it’s out of date and there’s new product on the market that may be able to serve the government’s needs,” he said. “We’ve seen it even with some of the databases and systems that have been created, like Obamacare. Their built on old programs, not the latest and greatest software that’s out there.”
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