Thought Leadership

Your Agency’s FITARA Plan Is Being Scored… How Will You Fare?
05-Oct-2015 Melinda Glazer
IT Strategy and Architecture
FITARA, Defense, Civilian, Data Center Consolodation, CIO, Governance, Acqusition, Budgeting

Federal agencies submitted their FITARA Self-Assessments and Implementation Plans to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on August 15. While many agencies met this first hurdle, they’re now faced with an even larger challenge—implementing their plan. Agencies have moved forward on the implementation of FITARA since submitting their plans in August. Meanwhile, OMB is in the process of reaching out to agencies to approve their plans or request that agencies amend plans to more fully meet the spirit of FITARA. OMB’s guidance may have significant impacts on whether agencies continue down the path they’ve initiated, or if they need to change course.

Over the next three months, agencies must work to implement their plan to achieve an enterprise-wide approach to Federal IT investment management. Successful implementation of FITARA should result in cross-functional partnerships between the CIO and key senior agency officials. This provides opportunities to create a more disciplined and transparent IT investment strategy, emphasizing IT resource planning and management to promote value-delivery of IT investments.

What does this mean in the short-term? Agencies will need to create robust and transparent IT governance processes; develop clear, decisive budget and acquisitions policies with streamlined procedures; establish measurable business processes; and transform the core capabilities required to nurture the next generation of Federal IT specialists. The timeline for implementing the FITARA plan is aggressive. While agencies may meet the deadlines to provide artifacts to OMB in order to prove they’re implementing FITARA, true implementation of the policies and processes will likely require a multi-year change process that involves transforming agency cultures. 

Agencies, the White House, and Congress should brace themselves for a FITARA “marathon,” not a “sprint”—not unlike the recent Cyber Sprint and current “Cyber Marathon.” For real change to occur, agencies must transform how they operate in multiple arenas. True FITARA implementation is not simply an exercise in compliance where agencies can check boxes to simply meet the law’s intent. Rather, it is an opportunity to revolutionize how IT is budgeted, acquired, and used across the Federal spectrum. While simply complying with the law may have been acceptable in the past, it’s appears that Congress, especially the House Government Reform Committee leadership in particular, expects real change to occur. Here are the major areas where agencies will be focusing their FITARA efforts: 

Changing how Federal agencies develop and implement their operating expense and program budgets will likely be a significant change in how components, bureaus, and independent offices function. As policies and processes are revised to require that the CIO have a “significant role” in budget formulation, agency components, bureaus, and independent offices will have to adjust how they conduct business to ensure that their IT needs are aligned to the agency’s IT strategic vision and enterprise architecture. While key partners may have said they would support changing how IT is acquired or developed, when it comes time to actually implement, these same partners will be confronted with their newly-limited autonomy. The support of senior agency leadership will be essential to changing and implementing new policies and procedures. CIOs will also have to show how they can add value in the agency budget formulation and execution processes.

CIOs also have an increased role in approving IT acquisitions, which might be perceived as limiting the autonomy of program offices. The IT acquisition “certification” requirement will also place a new burden on many CIO organizations, which may not have acquisition governance capability. Agencies need to do everything possible to accommodate the requirements of oversight without significantly compromising the productivity of programs. A combination of dedicated resources to review and organizational change management to increase awareness can make the implementation of FITARA easier to bear. There needs to be a recognition that this is not just a “power grab” by the CIO, but Federal law with broad bipartisan support in Congress. CIOs can help allay this concern but promoting strategic sourcing and category management opportunities that ideally should save agencies money and can actually accelerate acquisition life cycles.

OMB has circulated two draft memos for review related to software licenses and data center optimization. These provisions in FITARA are taking a back-seat to the CIO authority over budget for most agencies, but they represent a foothold for many CIOs to demonstrate exactly why this law was necessary in the first place. Most people want productivity tools that make life easier: data visualization, lightweight project or task management, basic collaboration. By offering clear and easy access to the desktop tools, CIOs may find that the proliferation of software (both installed or cloud) and local servers will start to decline on its own.

As agencies meet initial FITARA deadlines, the political will to continue making substantive changes may wane. To comply with FITARA’s intent, agencies should develop a long-term FITARA implementation project plan that incorporates organization change management strategies. All projects result in some type of change, and tight integration of an organizational change management approach with the FITARA project management and implementation activities is key to success.

Agency leadership should consider creating a time-limited FITARA “Czar” position under the Deputy Administrator or Chief Operating Officer that is tasked with assisting the CIO, CAO, CFO/Budget Officer and CHCO manage the necessary organizational changes across the agency. As officials begin the task of implementing the policies and processes, additional gaps may be identified, and a FITARA “Czar” will be able to assist the implementers in addressing the new challenges in a thoughtful manner that limits impact to the ongoing work. As FITARA implementation becomes institutionalized, the need for a dedicated team should generally diminish. 

Recognizing the time it may take to implement the changes required by FITARA over time, it agencies may find it helpful to benchmark the progress against an IT management maturity model approach like ACT-IAC’s. Such maturity models will assist agencies in assessing their progress against FITARA and also show agencies how to make step-wise improvements in key functions of the OMB Common Baseline. The FITARA project plan should also include an ongoing communication strategy for engaging key agency stakeholders to develop a new and improved IT management culture in Federal agencies.

CIOs are faced with both a unique opportunity and a daunting task in implementing FITARA. While agencies move forward in their adoption of the FITARA core capabilities, they must also continue to develop IT solutions that revolutionize how agencies and the world use IT, change how they budget for IT solutions, and restructure the Federal IT workforce. Over the next 2-3 years, how IT is budgeted for, acquired, and managed will change significantly, and CIOs will help change how Federal agencies function as they implement FITARA.

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