Federal agencies can earn better grades on their next FITARA (Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act) scorecard by taking action on three items that underpin the scoring–software inventories, CIO reporting lines, and setting up working capital funds for IT improvements as authorized by the MGT (Modernizing Government Technology) Act–members of Congress and an official with the Government Accountability Office said today.

The prescription for better FITARA health was delivered at a hearing held by two House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subcommittees to examine the committee’s seventh scorecard that grades how well 24 Federal agencies are implementing FITARA, MEGABYTE (the Making Electronic Government Accountable by Yielding Tangible Efficiencies Act), and the MGT Act.

While the broad results of the scorecard–11 agencies earned higher grades, 13 held steady, and none flunked–were seen in a positive light by committee members and applauded for the progress they show agencies made since the prior scorecard issued in May, they were also quick to point out the surest routes to further improvement.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, chairman of Oversight’s Information Technology subcommittee, said at today’s hearing that Scorecard 7.0 showed “improvement across the Federal government,” but emphasized that eight of the 24 agencies lost a full letter grade each because their CIOs do not directly report to agency secretaries or deputy secretaries.

“This is simple – a dotted-line [relationship] is not enough” between CIOs and agency secretaries, he said, adding, “An agency CIO should report directly to the agency head.”

Carol Harris, director of IT Management Issues at GAO and a witness at today’s hearing, explained that many agencies were able to improve their FITARA grades by implementing comprehensive and regularly updated inventories of software licenses and using those inventories to make cost-effective decisions.
The software inventory actions have allowed the government to save more than $700 million from license consolidations in the last fiscal year, she said.

She also said agencies failed to pick up points by creating working capital funds for IT modernization via MGT Act authorities, and predicted that the 24 agencies graded by the FITARA scorecard would see a dramatic improvement in scoring if they took action on each of those three items – CIO reporting, software inventories, and working capital funds authorized by MGT.

If each moved quickly on those fronts, the grades for the 24 agencies would include five with “A’s,” 15 with “B’s,” four with “C’s,” and no “D” or “F” grades, Harris said. And she asserted that “these are achievable by the next scorecard.”

By contrast, the scorecard released this week featured no “A” grades, 11 “B” grades, seven “C” grades, and six “D” grades.

Harris told Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., ranking member of the IT subcommittee, that many agencies struggle with the MGT-driven working capital issue, as well as grading on data center consolidations. On both fronts, Harris offered that improvement depends on “leadership focus and making it a priority at agencies.”

Continuing to grade agencies with the FITARA Scorecard format, Harris said, “will incentivize them and drive behavior, and make those areas a focus.”

On the data center optimization front, Harris said “there is still quite a bit of progress that agencies can make.” And, she warned, “there is money left on the table if agencies sweep this under the rug and don’t make it a priority.”

Ed Simcox, chief technology officer and acting CIO at HHS–which sharply boosted its grade on the latest scorecard–said at today’s hearing that agency officials were able to “change the DNA” at HHS by instilling FITARA into agency culture, especially among IT staff and HHS leadership.

He said that effort has involved “a constant amount of outreach” at HHS and its many operating divisions. “We have to continue that constant cycle of dialogue … It takes time and effort,” he said.

Asked about HHS’ record in data center consolidation, Simcox said the agency has been able to close 17 of 54 tiered data centers. “We can do better and will continue to make progress on that,” he said.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., ranking member of Oversight’s Government Operations subcommittee, said Congress “did not take a rigid approach” when it enacted legislation for the government to pare down its data centers, but also is interested in seeing more progress by agencies.

“We don’t want it to be simply neglected,” he said. “We want to create pressure . . . So that the default is ‘defend what you’ve got,’ rather than, ‘I don’t have to do anything.’”

Harris explained that further changes on data center consolidation may be forthcoming from the Office of Management and Budget via a draft proposal that OMB has put out for public comment regarding how to measure progress on data center consolidation and including a focus on utilization rates, rather than the number of servers.

She said GAO has concerns that the OMB draft proposal has the potential of “fuzzing things up” for how the government currently evaluates data center consolidation, and that GAO wants to have a meeting with OMB to talk about its concerns. Such a meeting, she said, has not yet been scheduled.

Further on the data center utilization front, Simcox said HHS has some tiered data centers that are at capacity, but at the same time the agency realizes “it is not necessarily an inherent core competency of the Federal government to run data centers.” And he spoke favorably of the virtues of cloud service providers, and said the agency was continuing to look for “low hanging fruit” to address further data center consolidation.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.