Congress held its second Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) hearing on May 18, 2016, and Agencies are only showing minor improvement in the four categories measured: Data Center Consolidation, IT Portfolio Review Savings, Incremental Development, and Risk Assessment Transparency. I give credit to Congress and the General Accountability Office (GAO) for using existing data calls as a means of assessing Chief Information Officers (CIOs), but the metrics they selected are not going to measure the impact of FITARA on Agency IT spending. There are other existing data calls that are better suited not only to seeing short-term gains, but also to observing long-term trends that indicate permanence of the changes introduced with FITARA.
First, Congress should look at what the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is doing to measure FITARA implementation progress in terms of specific artifacts. In April this year, a progress check was conducted against the plan of each Agency, and OMB is tracking plans’ progress to establish budget and acquisition governance, publish IT policies, and develop other foundational elements that strengthen CIO oversight. The ACT-IAC model is a great tool to help Agencies make adjustments to their plans or validate that Agencies are hitting their goals. These types of measures aim to track that Agencies are actually implementing the changes needed to reform their IT investments.
So how could Congress better measure the impact of these FITARA-related changes? My suggestion is to look for these indicators that FITARA is working: Is CIO oversight increasing? Are assets better managed? Are operations more efficient? Are Agencies saving money? Conveniently, these questions can be answered and monitored, over time, by using existing data calls to OMB.
The IT Asset Inventory, originally requested in 2012, seeks a list of all IT systems regardless of how they are funded. To determine if there was CIO oversight to acquire or keep the system, OMB should include one more field to ask whether the funding investment went through CIO governance to secure approval for each year. As the percent of IT systems with CIO approval increases, the impact of FITARA-driven governance for budgeting and acquisition becomes noticeable.
Software License Management is an upcoming action, judging from OMB’s recently solicited public comment on the second Category Management policy, for Software License Management. If the M-16-02 memo on laptops and desktops is an indication, data calls will seek out information about the means of procurement, the standard configurations, and efforts to streamline both. Through contract consolidation and establishment of standard solutions, CIOs will be able to show central management of an increasing number of productivity tools and enterprise platforms.
Operational efficiency is the intention of data center consolidation, but as the Government pivots from Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) to the Data Center Optimization Initiative, the indicators are changing. The Congressional FITARA Scorecard evaluates the percentage of planned savings that has been realized. This assumes that planned savings were realistic, and that consolidation of data centers is the same as optimizing them. Agencies that meet low targets are being scored higher than Agencies that make substantial, but lower than planned, savings. Analyzing trends of realized efficiency (e.g., reducing the cost per email inbox or meeting virtualization targets) provides Congress with better evidence of realized improvement.
Finally – FITARA is about saving money. The current Congressional scorecard use of portfolio savings makes sense, but it assumes that CIOs are hiding risks and that incremental delivery is inherently safer. Instead, identify whether an Agency can support the functional services required (systems and software) for a reduced cost. Evaluate the cost of operational efficiency with customer satisfaction or help desk performance to assess the end user impact of that reduced cost.
Right now, the Congressional FITARA scorecard emphasizes the quality of implementing other initiatives: is the investment plan meeting select criteria, or how well did the Agency realize the plans made before FITARA? Good information to know, but not a measure of FITARA. The OMB scorecard monitors the foundation activities to implement FITARA-mandated processes. This is a better and necessary tool for tracking key milestones, but still isn’t looking at FITARA’s effect on IT acquisition and overall investment. My suggestions focus on observing trends in the results, and largely through the use of existing data calls. Implementing FITARA is going to take time, so the metrics used to measure impact should be durable and focus on the real objectives of acquisition reform.