The FITARA 11.0 scorecard released in December 2020 turned out to be a pretty good report card for Federal agency IT operations. The latest set of grades marked just the second time since the House Oversight and Reform Committee started measuring agency progress against Federal Information Technology Reform Act (FITARA) and other key metrics that every agency received a passing score.

The House Government Operations Subcommittee’s April 16 hearing on the latest scorecard gave a couple of Federal agency CIOs a chance to share how their agencies notched some of the higher grades last time around.

The scorecard grades the largest 24 Federal agencies on a number of categories to gauge their success in improving IT operations. Even with a category change on the 11.0 scorecard, the Department of Labor (DoL) was a big riser, scoring a whole letter grade higher than the previous one, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also clocked in with a B grade.

Both CIOs, who appeared witnesses at the hearing, said that institutional buy-in has been a major factor in generating better FITARA Scorecard grades.  Here’s how they sized it up…

Agency Commitment, Congressional Tools key for Labor

DoL CIO Gundeep Ahluwalia praised his department’s commitment to modernization as a driving factor in DoL going from a C- on the FITARA 10.0 Scorecard to a B- on the latest scorecard.

“The department’s high marks in implementing FITARA is a testament to our organization’s commitment to IT modernization,” Ahluwalia told subcommittee members. “We are the only agency to receive A grades in six of the seven categories. As a result of our efforts in implementing FITARA and upgrading our infrastructure, Labor was able to quickly transition 95 percent of our workforce to a remote work environment when the COVID-19 pandemic started without any interruptions to mission activity.”

Among those A grades, were top scores in incremental development – jumping from a failing grade on the 10.0 scorecard. DoL also got an A grade for its progress on data center optimization, which was a major topic of discussion at the hearing.

DoL is a leader in that field, closing 73 data centers, both tiered and non-tiered – even with OMB changing the latter’s classification – and has realized savings of over $70 million in the process.

“During my time as CIO of the Department of Labor, our focus has been on paying down our technological debt, enabling the IT strategy and utilizing the tools Congress has provided – with FITARA, the  Modernizing Government Technology Act, and the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF),” Ahluwalia said. “In addition to innovative contracting strategies. We are taking advantage of the TMF funding opportunities, coupled with our working capital fund (WCF) authority and appropriations for IT modernization.”

Cloud Powering USAID Despite WCF Issues

USAID has consistently performed well on the scorecard, with just one C-minus grade after the first three scorecards. USAID was one of just two agencies that received an A grade on the 10.0 scorecard but dropped to a B on the 11.0 scorecard due to a low score on the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) transition metric.

Despite the drop, USAID is still a leader in the Federal IT modernization space, as the agency has no legacy systems, and has migrated entirely to cloud systems.

“The global pandemic changed how we work, how we live, and how we interact with each other,” USAID CIO Jay Mahanand said at the hearing. “For USAID and its people, responding to this global health crisis is at the core of our mission. We have a long-standing history of dealing with emerging threats to global health security, such as Ebola and now COVID-19.”

“Because of this rich history, we were able to rapidly virtualize USAID and its workforce and leverage our leadership in cloud technology to lessen the impact on the agency’s most valuable asset, its people,” Mahanand added. “USAID global IT infrastructure plays a critical role in enabling and enhancing every aspect of the agency’s mission.”

Mahanand noted that being 100 percent cloud-based has greatly aided USAID’s ability to continue operating this past year, and kept its over 12,000 employees in over 100 countries able to continue doing mission-critical work.

Mahanand did lament, however, the agency’s troubles in creating its own working capital funds for IT improvements via the MGT Act. He said the agency included provisions for that fund in its appropriations requests for the past three years but to no avail.

Even still, USAID has continued pressing forward with modernizing IT infrastructure and capabilities.

“Over the past year, USAID has expanded its effort to leverage state-of-the-art technologies such as AI and RPA (robotic process automation), to help the agency realize the full potential within its many data sources,” Mahanand said. “Each project represents a significant investment USAID is making innovation tools and platform that will continue to help secure our network and data, globally, and help us keep pace with [the] agency’s ever-changing technology and information needs.”

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.