Acronyms Across the Aisle?

In Fed IT, it’s AFE. Don’t recognize that TLA – Three Letter Acronym? It’s Acronyms For Everything. As the elephants and donkeys charge and kick one another over the 3Is – Immigration, Iran, and Israel – there’s one acronym on which they find common ground – FITARA. And, that one doesn’t need spelling out – unless you’ve been hiding under a rock.

Reds and blues don’t agree on much, but they’re united on their call for enhanced efficiency in government IT. Importantly, FITARA is law now – and the CIO empowerment act gives Federal CIOs the nuclear option. That said, to quote Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. As it elevates CIOs, FITARA also puts the top IT execs in the hot seat.

Strange Bedfellows

We all remember that Vivek Kundra set the pace for change as President Obama’s first Federal CIO. At the time, given the administration’s initial Open Government policy, this all made sense. Vivek published headcounts for Federal IT data centers, sounded the battle cry to the cloud, and set quantifiable targets for new efficiencies. Accurate or fantasy, the metrics provided everybody a way to get a grip on the $80 Billion slippery fish that is Federal IT – some say $160 Billion fish. So it’s ironic, the pro-government Democrats essentially placed a target on the back of the CIO.

Hardly surprisingly, the Republicans – led in the House by Darrell Issa (R-Ca), then-chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – and closely supported by the committee’s senior Democrat, Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) – loved the idea of increased government accountability. In fact, Issa and Connolly like Fed IT modernization so much, they co-founded the Cloud Computing Caucus. The Senate too took on Vivek’s metrics mania – where Senators Carper (D-Del.) and Coburn (R-Okla.) carried the torch. Together, the warring parties passed FITARA – it’s the Acronym Across the Aisle.

CIOs in the Crosshairs

So now that’s it’s law, it’s time to implement FITARA. The law says agency CIOs need to sign off on each and every IT purchase and makes it illegal for other agency execs to reprogram IT appropriations. So if IT projects succeed, CIOs should expect laurels. If they run into challenges, OMG.

A couple of concerns here in defense of CIOs. First off – FITARA envisioned consolidating the CIO title so that there would be just one per agency. Today, many government departments have multiple CIOs within the bureaus and components that make up each agency. This CIO consolidation got killed in the final stages of FITARA’s passage into law. This proliferation of CIOs dissipates control and accountability.

Second, there’s the whole cloud thing – and it’s impact on Shadow IT. The reason folks speculate that the Federal IT budget may be much bigger than the $80 Billion appropriation, is because significant IT investments live within funding for other programs. For example, IT guidance systems within a missile defense system don’t roll up into the $80 Billion IT number. So, do CIOs have veto power on those shadow IT components within “non-IT” programs? I don’t think so.

Shadow IT’s an old chestnut, but it’s made super relevant today by cloud computing which is providing a new dimension to the hidden IT economy. Recent IG reports tell us that some Department CIOs only see about 30 percent of their agencies cloud investments. Mission owners are buying cloud services – sometimes on their credit cards – without OCIO visibility or approval. Like Peter Pan, CIOs need to get a grip on their shadows to really gain control of IT.

What’s Next?

So, we’re heading into hearing season. We understand the folks at GAO have a series of new reports and statistics that point at data centers, cloud adoption, and security. OGR, under new Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut) and long-time tech champion Connolly will look hard for Fed IT progress and savings. Guessing the new OGR Information Technology Subcommittee, headed by Chairman Will Hurd (R-Tex.), will be the crucible for accountability and change. On the Senate side in HSGAC, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) won’t want to be left out of the IT action.

Rumor has it, the CIO Council has already met this year to map out FITARA implementation plans. While the weather’s cold, it’s going to get hot in IT. All eyes on the CIO Council and the Hill. And let’s not forget the most important acronym in D.C. – CYA.

What’s your take on FITARA? Will the new law change things?

Steve O'Keeffe
About Steve O'Keeffe
The most connected executive in the government technology community – O'Keeffe is an accomplished entrepreneur and tech-policy expert, with 30 years’ experience as an innovator at the crossroads of government and industry. He founded MeriTalk, O'Keeffe & Company, 300Brand, among other entities. O'Keeffe is a fixture on the Hill, in both the House and Senate, testifying on IT, budget, government workforce, and the requirement to modernize government IT to enhance outcomes for the American people and government employees. He is a champion for change, simplification, transparency, and clear communication of IT value without jargon. A committed philanthropist, O'Keeffe has served for 15 years on the USO-Metro Board of Directors – Vice Chairman of the Board and Chair of the Annual Awards Dinner. He started his career as a journalist – O'Keeffe has contributed to The Economist, Government Executive, Signal Magazine, The Washington Post, and, of course, MeriTalk.