ModernGOV

Bringing Government IT Modernization and Innovation to the Forefront

Department of Veterans Affairs IT Chief Shares Value of FITARA

shutterstock_111435890 (1)The summer of 2015, might just become known as the Summer of FITARA. Widely regarded as the most comprehensive overhaul of Government IT since the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) brings the role of the CIO to the forefront of technology reform. Signed into law in December 2014, the IT reform agenda puts agency CIOs squarely in the driver’s seat when it comes to governing programming, budgeting, decision-making, and acquisition initiatives.

Despite a slow legislative process, agency IT leaders have embraced FITARA with a rarely seen zeal when it comes to directives. While oftentimes there’s institutional resistance to change, especially when it comes to procedural upheaval, FITARA has not experienced that inertia, yet. But then again, there may be forces at work that see FITARA avoid that path all together.

At a recent media roundtable, Stephen Warren, principal deputy assistant secretary for information and technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), outlined key factors that have given FITARA a life of its own. Warren shared that the VA is effectively in compliance with the legislation, just 7 months after it was passed and a few months before compliance is required. Since the troubled initial Healthcare.gov launch, there has been tremendous scrutiny of agencies projects – both in terms of delivering the services that have been requested and doing so within budget. Because “FITARA is all about…making sure outcomes align with mission” as Warren highlighted during the roundtable, there was no question that it would be formalized into our IT processes.

But, what is really guiding the rapid adoption is a result of other evolutions in IT – from the imperatives of cyber security to the benefits of shared services – agencies are more experienced in working together. “We’re stronger as a result of other agencies and other departments getting into the pool. As more organizations have become part of the protection, it’s allowing us to improve quicker,” he said. Warren went on to say “we are getting a multiplier, if you will, as a result of more folks caring and more partnerships taking place across the federal government.”

Federal CIO, Tony Scott, has been an outspoken advocate for FITARA, along with Representative Gerry Connelly (D-VA) who co-sponsored the bill in Congress. The day before the VA roundtable at an event in Northern Virginia, both men took to the podium to champion FITARA and counter pushback from agencies not as far through the compliance process at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Scott said “part of this digitization and part of this reform that we’re going through … is cleaning up decades of neglect, omission, not seeing the issues, not funding things that need to be repaired,” after he compared layering security onto legacy IT systems to adding airbags to a 1965 Mustang.

So, while FITARA may experience a few bumps along the way as agencies prepare for the August 15th compliance deadline, there’s no doubt that FITARA is here to stay. As agencies, like the VA, demonstrate that meeting both the letter and the spirit of the mandate are indeed possible; FITARA will likely produce positive outcomes not just for each agency, but the federal government as a whole as its momentum builds.

Want to learn more? A key component to many agencies’ FITARA compliance strategy stems around effective Application Portfolio management. Check out FCW’s recent article “What’s of value in your application portfolio?”

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