Issa Discusses Major Information Technology Reform [VIDEO]

Published: Dec 11, 2012

Chairman Darrell Issa appeared at Nextgov Prime last week to discuss federal IT reform plans. You can read Chairman Issa’s proposal and his draft legislation at

WATCH Chairman Issa on the Impact of Major IT Reform

CIO overhaul: Issa plan would reinvent how IT is managed

12-10-12 by Nicole Blake Johnson

An ambitious plan is emerging in Congress that, if approved, would represent the most sweeping overhaul of the way agencies buy and manage information technology since the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, which created chief information officers at all agencies.

At its center is a redefinition of what is a federal CIO: The proposal by House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., would reduce the number of CIOs in government — to one per agency — and empower those remaining with more authority to decide how their departments’ IT dollars are spent.

“The Clinger[-Cohen] Act … needs an overhaul for one most important reason, and that is: If you authorize CIOs, then by definition, the term should mean something,” Issa said at a Dec. 3 industry event. “When you have hundreds of them for 24 major agencies, you really don’t have chiefs. And that’s the most important thing that this bill is intended to do is to redefine the term ‘chief’ to mean the chief. … There has to be one responsible individual who then holds their staff at all levels, regardless of their titles and their paygrades, responsible. We really don’t have that in the federal government.”

The plan is outlined in a draft bill called the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act that Issa circulated to industry groups for feedback. Issa has not said when he will introduce the bill, but industry groups expect it will be next year. Other proposed reforms in the package include:

• Encouraging more use of open-source software.

• Consolidating contracting responsibilities so a few “centers of excellence” within the government are responsible for all agencies’ procurements in certain categories.

• Increasing the amount of multiagency bulk purchasing — known as “strategic sourcing” — of IT commodities.

• More training of IT acquisition staff.

The California Republican’s reform plan is gaining support from industry groups, as well as a key Democrat: Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, the ranking minority member on the House subcommittee that oversees federal IT issues.

Industry groups appear generally supportive of the measure, but they are taking aim at two specific measures in the draft bill: one that would encourage the use of open-source software and another that would designate acquisition centers of excellence within federal agencies. Those parts of the plan “raise serious concerns and must be modified if the bill is to earn our support,” four trade associations representing federal contractors told Issa in a joint Nov. 30 letter.

Acquisition centers of excellence

The bill could enable, for example, the Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services departments to serve as go-to centers for all agencies’ health IT acquisitions. But in their Nov. 30 letter to Issa, the four contractor trade associations said they are concerned this would create more duplicative contracts and undermine the General Services Administration’s federal supply schedules program, in which companies invest heavily. Those signing the letter were TechAmerica, The Coalition for Government Procurement, BSA The Software Alliance and the Information Technology Industry Council.

Under the draft bill, the Office of Management and Budget would designate certain agencies as acquisition centers of excellence to promote best practices in specialized areas of contracting, such as cybersecurity or financial management software. The centers would also perform fee-based services on behalf of other agencies, including consulting, awarding, administering or closing out contracts or task orders.

Agencies would be required to consult with the centers on IT acquisitions that exceed $5 million and fall under the expertise of a center. Should agencies not consult with them, they would have to justify their reasons to OMB.

Every two years, OMB would determine whether an agency remains a center of excellence.

Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said companies would benefit from the newly created centers because they would no longer have to spend money vying for business on numerous competing contracts, and the bill would save government administrative costs by reducing duplicative contracts.

“We are not convinced this structure would do that,” said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of global public-sector government affairs at TechAmerica. “In fact, what you may have is the exact opposite.“

Hodgkins said the draft bill would allow agencies to create new contracts to meet other agencies’ needs. There is no mention in the bill of what this could mean for existing contracts. Rather than potentially creating new contracts, Hodgkins said government should focus on improving existing governmentwide contracts, such as GSA’s federal supply schedule contracts.

Small and minority-owned businesses will be hard-pressed to stretch resources to compete for federal work, Hodgkins said. What happens if contracts at these centers fail to drive much business, or if an agency loses its status as a center, he asked.

A senior staffer for Issa’s committee said agencies serving as centers would mainly play a consulting role and would be expected to present their agency customers with all contracting options, including governmentwide contracts offered at other agencies.

Although the draft bill doesn’t mandate use of contracts offered by a center, there would be great scrutiny of IT projects that forfeited consultations from the centers and ended up failing, the staffer said.

The idea is that specialized acquisitions would be faster and cheaper through the centers, giving agencies an incentive to use them, he said.

One goal of the bill is to reduce duplicative IT contracts, but the bill doesn’t mandate the elimination of inefficient or redundant contracts. Instead, the assumption is that sales would increase on the most cost-effective governmentwide IT contracts, ultimately replacing any inefficient contracts.

The staffer added that the bill would not steer business away from GSA schedules. In fact, GSA would be a likely candidate to house a newly created Federal Commodity IT Acquisition Center under the draft bill.

Unlike the specialized centers of excellence, the commodity IT center would be staffed by experts from across government who specialize in buying common IT goods and services, such as email or other cloud services. Agencies would be required to consult with the commodity IT center for contracts exceeding $50 million.

The commodity IT center would operate as a neutral entity, providing agencies with best practices for purchasing common IT, but could also provide contract vehicles for customers, similar to what GSA provides.

Congress and OMB would be tasked with ensuring that the commodity IT center and the centers of excellence weren’t biased in steering agencies’ business toward their contracts without considering the best contracting option across government, the staffer said.

Open-source software guidance

Another concern of industry is the bill’s promotion of open-source software.

The bill calls for streamlining the federal approval process of open-source software, maintenance and support of the software, and guidance clarifying that the government’s preference for commercial products includes open-source software.

In their letter to Issa, the industry groups argued that encouraging greater use of open-source software could prejudice agencies’ use of other commercial software when deciding what software to invest in.

“Technology neutrality is the official policy of the U.S. government,” said Katherine McGuire, vice president of government relations for BSA The Software Alliance, whose members include Apple, Microsoft, Adobe and Oracle.

McGuire said the provision is unnecessary because agencies already are encouraged to consider open-source software when planning new IT projects. She pointed to a January 2011 OMB memo to agencies that says “in the context of developing requirements and planning acquisitions for software … agencies should analyze alternatives that include proprietary, open source and mixed source technologies.”

Ahmad, with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the bill is not promoting or mandating the use of open-source software, but rather it makes it easier for agencies to use open source.

“I released the discussion draft to promote exactly this kind of dialogue amongst all stakeholders,” Issa said in a statement to Federal Times about industry’s concerns.

His staff is gathering comments on the draft bill, and the next step is to release a revised draft for additional comments, which may include revisions to clarify the role and intent of the centers and to ensure no one type of software is being promoted in the bill.

IT reform bill would cull the CIO herd, give them more power

Tuesday – 12/4/2012

Jared Serbu

By one count, there are 243 people across the government with a title of chief information officer on their business cards.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said it seems to be a case of too many chefs spoiling the IT soup.

Issa, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the proliferation of CIOs throughout government is one culprit behind failed federal IT projects. To make the system work, he said, each agency needs a single CIO with more authority and more gravitas.

He said all those chiefs is a basic contravention of the ideas behind the Clinger-Cohen Act, which created CIOs in the first place in 1996.

“If you authorize CIOs, then by definition the term should mean something. If you have hundreds of them for 24 major agencies, then you really don’t have chiefs,” Issa told a Monday IT reform forum hosted by NextGov in Washington. “That’s the most important thing this bill is intended to do. The chief should be the chief. There’s plenty of Indians, but there has to be one responsible individual who then holds their staff at all levels responsible regardless of their titles or pay grades. We don’t have that in the federal government.”

Who’s in charge of the IT budget?

Issa’s proposal to consolidate the authority of CIOs is one element of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act he began circulating in draft form in September. The bill’s proposed reforms encompass much of the universe of federal IT and aim to upright an acquisition system that observers almost universally agree is ill-suited for the fast-changing world of information technology.

But from his perspective as an overseer of agency decisions, Issa said one of the most important parts of the bill is the notion that one single person would have authority over an agency’s IT budget.

“You want to know that somebody’s in charge, but when you make them accountable you also want to give them the real ability to kill a program, enhance a program, move funds around, and candidly come to Congress or OMB with the kind of gravitas that can say, ‘look, this is my $2 billion and I’m telling you we need to move it from here to there,'” he said. “It doesn’t have to be the most technologically savvy individual, it has to be the best manager. It has to be somebody who understands whether a program is in trouble or it has a real opportunity to succeed.”

There is one agency in government whose CIO has full authority over technology spending throughout the enterprise: the Department of Veterans Affairs gained that unique power following a data breach that compromised personal information on millions of veterans. Issa said Congress missed the boat by not extending that authority to the rest of government. Doing so now, he said, won’t diminish Congress’s power of the purse, but it will let agencies make the adaptations they need to within a quickly changing technology landscape.

“Reprogramming authority will probably continue to be within Congress, but the idea that you should have one source that looks at the system and comes in and says we can spend money better over here, that’s what we intend to do,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a situation where Congress gives you a big pot of money, you go spend it and call us in the morning. I don’t think government is going that way, we are different. But the idea that you constantly come back to reprogram budget money and you have flexibility is a goal. So is the accountability of having less people coming to appropriations committees or even OMB. Imagine the Office of Management and Budget trying to deal with 243 different people who have the term chief. It would be hopeless.”

A growing knowledge gap

Issa spoke alongside Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), another collaborator on the draft reform bill. Connolly said government also needs to focus on developing a highly capable cadre of IT acquirers within agencies.

“We have to address personnel. One of the problems Darrell’s identified in terms of federal management of IT is that there’s a growing gap between the domain expertise in the public sector and the private sector,” he said. “It is not uncommon for the federal contractor providing the services to have all of the expertise on their side of the table. When I was in the private sector, I can think of one contract we had where over three years, we had 14 different government program managers. There was no continuity, and every one of them had his or her own ideas about what the contract really meant. It meant that over time the contract got morphed into something else, and satisfaction on both sides was highly unlikely.”

Connolly said now’s the time to focus on reforming the way agencies buy IT and eliminate wasteful spending on projects that wind up getting cancelled, since budgets are under pressure.

But Issa said he actually wouldn’t mind keeping IT funding where it is – as long as that spending winds up being effective. His committee has concluded the wasted funds amount to around $20 billion per year.

“What I believe is that we’re going to invest that $20 billion in things that actually work rather than in things that get cancelled. That $20 billion will save us $200 billion in waste, fraud and abuse throughout government,” he said.

“That’s unusual from somebody for whom everything’s about cutting. But you don’t cut the tax collector if you want to cut taxes. You don’t take the pilot out of the airplane. If you need to lighten the load, please do not have it be the pilots.”

Industry comments on the bill

Connolly agreed more effective IT can be a force multiplier when it comes to the budget For instance, if IT systems were developed and improved more effectively at the IRS, the results would make the upcoming fiscal cliff look almost irrelevant, he said.

“Our subcommittee highlighted the fact that every year, about $135 billion is left on the table in uncollected or unassessed taxes. Not a tax increase, but money we actually ought to be collecting,” he said. “Technology could help us. Beefing up the IRS a little bit could help us in getting our arms around some significant chunk of that. $135 billion times 10 is $1.35 trillion. It exceeds sequestration entirely.”

Issa said he publicly released the bill in draft form prior to formally introducing it in Congress in order to begin gathering feedback from the technology community and other interested parties.

While specific parts of the bill have taken some industry criticism, Trey Hodgkins, a senior vice president at the trade group TechAmerica, said it was a good starting point for an IT reform conversation.

“Our members have begun telling us pretty vocally over the last year that they’re increasingly convinced the whole process is broken. We no longer achieve best value for the taxpayer. This addresses several elements of it, but it doesn’t get to full-scale acquisition reform,” he said in an interview with Federal News Radio’s Francis Rose. “The devils in the details and we’ve been talking with the staff and Mr. Issa about how we can create effective mechanisms that don’t create unintended consequences.”

In a Nov. 30 letter jointly signed by TechAmerica, the Business Software Alliance, the Coalition for Government Procurement and the Information Technology Industry Council, the trade groups flagged several of those alleged unintended consequences.

For instance, introducing the phrase “commodity IT” into federal law could confuse existing definitions of “commercial items” in federal procurement, the groups wrote. And the bill’s emphasis on promoting the use of open source software would violate longstanding principles of technology neutrality in procurement law.

But Issa said the intent of the open source provision had been misunderstood. He said a key objective of the bill is to establish the federal government as one customer of IT products and services and allow agencies to share software innovations amongst themselves rather than repeatedly building and buying duplicative products.

“We’re one entity, and once you define us that way, what we’re really saying is that we can share within 24 or thousands of different subagencies in a collaborative way, so that when somebody comes up with something that works for them, somebody else can easily be aware that it’s on the shelf and can take that base and build on it,” he said.

“Not everything in the world is going to be COTS and walked in by a vendor, but at the same time we’re so used to buying the same thing 24 times, slightly different. I want to be neutral though. I want to say that we’re not prohibiting open source, but we will need legislation to define what open source is in government. I look forward to people who are concerned spending a lot of time with us to make sure we get it right. We’re not trying to exactly match what open source is in the private sector, because government is different. But we believe we can be collaborative to the benefit of the private sector and the public sector.”

Is it time to revisit Clinger-Cohen?

By Camille Tuutti

Dec 03, 2012

Rep. Darrell Issa argues that the time is right to revamp the law that created the CIO position and set IT procurement processes for agencies.

The time has come to revise the framework that dictates the acquisition process for federal IT, according to two lawmakers in what might be a rare moment of bipartisan agreement.

Kicking off the Dec. 3 Nextgov Prime event in Washington, D.C., Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) said the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 should be revamped to better serve the federal government’s technology acquisition needs. The law created the CIO role and has spurred many discussions over the years about whether it is necessary for CIOs to have budget control.

In September, Issa released a draft of a bill intended for the next Congress, called the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. It would grant more power to agency CIOs to control the technology government acquires while also promoting strategic sourcing.

Bill Text

Read the draft Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act

But some industry groups say certain parts of Issa’s bill should be modified to gain the support from the private sector. In a Nov. 30 letter to Issa, TechAmerica, the Business Software Alliance, the Coalition for Government Procurement and the Information Technology Industry Council wrote that the current version of FITARA could cause confusion for federal procurement officials. Instead of streamlining the acquisition process, these new provisions could instead stall it, the groups said.

The letter also states the group supports the goal of government becoming more sophisticated as a customer of IT, but calls for investments in the acquisition workforce and the consolidation of governmentwide and multiagency purchasing agreements that the groups believe to be unnecessary.

“We truly appreciate the effort of Chairman Issa and his staff and look forward to continuing to discuss our serious concerns,” Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for global public sector at TechAmerica, said in a Nov. 30 statement. “Ensuring that the federal acquisition system is working as it should be, the government has access to the latest innovation and that taxpayers are getting the best value for their money is the top priority for all of us.”

Meanwhile, Issa said he and Connolly are both in a position to see the long-term effects of Clinger-Cohen and how it could be improved.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he said. “Clinger-Cohen, which was passed before either of us was in Congress, needs an overhaul for one most important reason, and that is: If you authorize CIOs, then by definition the term should mean something. When you have hundreds of them for 24 agencies, you really don’t have chiefs.”

Issa’s bill intends to redefine the term “chief” to mean “the chief,” Issa stressed. “There are plenty of … people controlling at the lower levels, but there has to be one responsible individual that holds their staff [accountable] at all levels regardless of their titles or pay grade. We don’t have that in the federal government.”

“If something goes wrong, you can have in one agency 20 people who bear the name ‘chief,’ but none has budget authority,” he added.

In praising Issa’s draft proposal, Connolly acknowledged the long road ahead, in particular in the areas of the acquisition workforce.

“I think we have a lot of work to do; I’m hopeful and I think Chairman Issa’s draft bill gives us a framework that we’re still working on and I’m thanking you for including a number of us in that effort,” he said. “But we have a long way to go in making the federal government a lot more efficient and its management of IT resources, and the criticality of that when we look at the fiscal situation.” 
In a separate interview, Connolly told FCW that he intends to be a chief co-sponsor when Issa introduces the measure next year.

Every year, $80 billion is funneled into government technology, $20 billion of which is spent on wasteful projects, Issa said. Those projects have a ripple effect and add hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. “I would throw that $20 billion into the mix if it meant the rest of the government was efficient and effective and had the kinds of information and accountability that, let’s say, Walmart insists on for its equipment,” Issa said. “If you’re a Walmart today…you have complete transparency and your vendors have complete transparency as to where the information is, where the incoming goods are.”

Issa’s bill also aims to fix the contentious issue of budget authority for CIOs. Some have argued that it would allow CIOs to get things done faster and more efficiently; others say plenty can be done without it. Issa said what is needed is one person who has the power to stop a program and tell Congress, “This is my $2 billion, and I’m telling you, we need to move it here and there.”

That person does not have to be the most technologically savvy individual, Issa added, or even the best manager, but rather someone who recognizes when a program is struggling or when it has an opportunity to succeed.

“Chairman Issa and I share a lot in common on this subject, and I very much look forward to working with him on trying to find a statutory framework to move forward,” Connolly said, adding that the government faces a host of challenges with respect to technology, including addressing such issues as how well the existing resources are being used.

“Whatever happens with the fiscal cliff [or] a contracted federal presence over the next 10 years to get the debt down … then technology becomes more important than ever,” he added. “Can I deploy technology in such a way that I more than make up for the aggregate resources we are using? That is the essential task for every federal agency.”

In many ways, the federal government is lagging behind the private sector, Connolly said. “We’re less nimble, and it takes us a lot more time to make decisions when we see something isn’t working,” he said. “And it takes us a lot more time than the private sector to pull back and acknowledge a mistake and move on and not stick with it and waste even more money.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a staff writer covering federal IT and the federal workforce. Connect with her on Twitter: @camilletuutti

House oversight leaders find rare bipartisan agreement on IT reform

By Joseph Marks

December 3, 2012

One key to rationalizing the way information technology is managed in government is to mandate transparency about what agencies are buying and from whom, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said during Nextgov Prime Monday.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who appeared onstage with Issa, agreed.

“Off the shelf software for agency X, identical to that same software for agency Y, ought not to be proprietary information,” Connolly said. “Right now, often, it is. The same company selling the same software to two agencies can insist that one agency can’t know what the other one is paying for it. And it is not uncommon, as Darrell indicated, that, as a result, we have 24 different price structures for the same item.”

Issa has proposed legislation to reform federal information technology acquisitions that, among other things, would urge agencies to use open source software when possible. A coalition of industry groups criticized that provision and others in an open letter to Issa Friday, saying they could not endorse the legislation in its current form.

Issa responded Monday that he intended the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act to be neutral about how technology is developed.

Some open source software may not be an ideal fit for government because government’s needs are sometimes unique, he said. But government agencies often have similar needs and one agency ought to be able to benefit from software that’s developed or retrofitted for another agency, he said.

Issa is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees many government efficiency efforts. Connolly is the ranking Democrat on the panel’s technology subcommittee.

The two have a historically combative relationship but agreed with each other numerous times during Monday’s discussion.

Connolly has praised Issa’s reform plan, but said he hopes to make some changes before the legislation is passed out of committee. Technology reform can help drastically reduce waste and fraud in government, clawing back $200 billion or more, he said Monday.

That reform could help ease the pain of any budget deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff in January, he said.

Issa’s bill would also mandate that each federal agency has a single chief information officer with broad budget authority, a power that only Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker has now.

“What we want to do is redefine the word ‘chief’ to mean chief,” Issa said during Monday’s panel. “There has to be one responsible individual who then holds their staff — at all levels, regardless of their titles and their pay grades — responsible. We don’t have that in the federal government.”

Congressmen Tie Federal IT Reforms To Economy

By Deanna Glick

Published: December 4, 2012

Reps. Darrell Issa and Gerry Connolly say federal IT mismanagement has not only cost taxpayers billions, but has a dire effect on the economy. 

The two congressmen with a history of butting heads agree sweeping federal IT reforms and giving CIOs budget authority would fix the problem. They talked about why on a stage in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

“That $80 or $81 billion [spent on federal IT this year] was intended to provide information in a multi-trillion dollar world, a $17 trillion dollar economy,” Issa said. “The loss is the information — the facts, the figures, the transparency — are not available to the decision makers. Therefore, the $80 billion dollars of bad IT has a ripple effect that is certainly hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy.”

Issa (R-Calif) and Connolly (D-Va) point to $20 billion in wasted spending on federal IT in 2012 as they make their case for legislation Issa proposed in September. The legislation would provide sweeping reforms in the way technology is managed and acquired at federal agencies in an effort to eliminate duplication and waste. 

“I would throw that $20 billion into the mix if it meant the rest of government was efficient and effective and had the kind of information and accountability that, say, WalMart would insist on,” Issa said.

He later added: “I don’t believe we’re going to wring out one penny of that $20 billion dollars. What I believe is we’re going to invest that $20 billion into things that actually work… and will ultimately save us 200 billion in waste fraud and abuse throughout government and that’s unu … You don’t cut the tax collector if you want to collect taxes and you don’t take the airplane pilot out of the airplane. IF you need to lighten the load, please do not let it be the pilots.”

Provisions in the draft bill would also grant significantly more power to federal chief information officers to control the technology that agencies acquire. Despite authorities granted to CIOs in the 1996 Clinger Cohen Act, IT planning and acquisition decisions typically fall under the control of bureau and program heads within federal agencies and departments. As a result, with the exception of CIOs such as Roger Baker at the Department of Veterans Affairs, most federal CIOs have limited control to standardize and streamline the IT used throughout their agencies.

“We need to redefine the term chief to mean chief,” Issa said Monday. “When something goes wrong you can have 20 people in an agency with the name chief that have no budget authority.”

Connolly said Monday reforms would also address cybersecurity and a growing gap between domain expertise and managing IT resources as well as redundancy in acquisitions.

“All expertise is in contractors,” he said. “There’s no continuity. We need highly skilled contract managers in acquisition to make sure taxpayer resources are protected.”

Connolly also said that while he’s in favor of BYOD and open source relationships, legislation would provide necessary definition and guidelines. Software, he said, “should not be proprietary between agencies. It’s sold several times. … If I’m a private company selling it I may not like that change. But we have to take a look at that.”

He later added: “We need to build in flexibility and not kill innovation … while at the same time save the taxpers money. … Congress itself maybe needs to give up some of its control to achieve more flexibility and efficiency.”

While no one at Monday’s forum criticized the proposed legislation, not everyone in Washington has been sold on the current draft. When it was introduced, Mark Forman, former administrator, Office of E-Government and IT, White House Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush Administration, said he hoped “several key improvements” would be made to the legislation. He also cautioned that “the reason for redundancy is not IT buying, but significant redundancy in programs funded,” which he said is well documented by Sen. Coburn and two major GAO reports on redundancy.

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