Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Federal IT Reform Bill Headed For Passage 

Legislation that would speed consolidation the federal government's more than 9,600 datacenters while centralizing the authority of agency chief information officers is expected to be approved by Congress this week as part of a military spending bill.

A stripped down version of the Federal Information Technology Information Reform Act is likely to be approved after being attached to a must-pass fiscal 2015 military spending bill approved by the House last week. The legislation is seen as the first attempt in a generation to fix the way government agencies spend an estimated $80 billion annually on IT.

Under the IT legislation, greater budget and program authority would reside under agency CIOs as a way to reduce the influence of scattered IT officials holding the same title or performing similar functions. The agency IT czars would, for example, gain greater influence in formulating annual IT budget requests. The bill also would require agency CIOs to sign off on any IT hardware or services contracts.

While the bill doesn't specifically limit the number of officials in an agency who carry out duties similar to a CIO, it does concentrate authority for hiring at the top of most federal departments.

The provisions of the IT reform legislation generally do not apply to the Defense Department or U.S. intelligence agencies. The Pentagon CIO recommends an agency-wide IT budget to the Secretary of Defense.

The Obama administration has for several years been trying to consolidate the government's far-flung datacenters. The IT reform legislation would give that effort the force of law.

The IT reform legislation marks a rare instance of bipartisan action in Congress while also underscoring the growing influence of the IT industry in Washington. The legislation was initially introduced in 2013 by Representatives Darrell Issa, Republican of California, and Gerry Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, largely in response the bungled Healthcare.gov rollout. Both lawmakers represent constituencies with huge stakes in reforming how the government procures IT equipment and services.

"As technology changes, chief information officers were previously prevented from adopting new technologies, and often the American taxpayer missed out on more cost effective options," Issa said in a statement. The IT reform legislation "fixes this crisis of leadership and ensures that the contracting standard is modernized to handle a changed tech landscape."

Key provisions of the original bill favored by the tech sector did not make it into the final draft, but an IT industry group called the "limited version" of the IT procurement reform legislation an "important first step."

"Providing CIOs with a significant role in programming, budgeting, management – and especially governance – can move the government toward more effective IT solutions," Elizabeth Hyman, executive vice president with tech lobbyist TechAmerica, said in a statement.

Nearly all federal IT contract awards draw protests that slow the procurement process. The tech lobby had been seeking an expedited acquisition review process to promote "agile IT acquisition."

Another attempt at streamlining federal IT acquisition is expected in the next session of Congress, perhaps including attempts to reform Pentagon IT procurement.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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