House passes Issa’s federal IT acquisition reform measure

The House recently passed its 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which included a measure to significantly overhaul the budget authority of federal chief information officers.

The amendment was initially its own bill, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, and was written and sponsored by the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issa spent months drafting the IT acquisition reform legislation and soliciting input from stakeholders.

The federal government currently spends $81 billion each year on IT, but does so inefficiently with many cases of duplication and failure, according to Issa.

“At a time when we are facing record deficits and our national debt has exceeded GDP, it has never been more important for government IT acquisition to maximize the American taxpayer’s return on investment, reduce operational risk and provide value to citizens,” Issa said. “Yet, because of the antiquated way the government defines its requirements and acquires IT, we are wasting billions of taxpayer dollars each year on failed programs.”

Issa said his legislation involves overhauling the cumbersome federal acquisition process and adopting best practices from the private sector.

A key provision included in the Issa measure would give federal chief information officers effective budget authority over IT programs and would put them in charge of developing shared services and shared platforms. Issa said this would encourage a broader transition to cloud solutions and make it easier for agencies to embrace the use of open source software.

The legislation would also establish a Federal Commodity IT Center to serve as a hub for coordinated acquisition practices and the management of government-wide IT contracts.

Issa also included a provision to help agencies acquire technology most appropriate for their mission by designating certain agencies as the go-to centers for complex IT acquisitions.

“If the Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services departments deal with healthcare IT procurement on a regular basis, why should other agencies not benefit from their expertise,” Issa said. “These Assisted Acquisition Centers of Excellence would centralize the knowledge of specialists mitigating the critical shortage of skilled federal IT acquisition staff.”

Issa’s bill was added on as an amendment to the House NDAA and was agreed to in a voice vote in June. The amendment must be approved during conference meetings with the Senate or it will not be included in the final version that is sent to the White House.

The measure, if approved in conference and signed by President Barack Obama, would update the 1996 Clinger-Cohen legislation that was designed to enhance the way agencies acquire, use and dispose of IT resources.