FITARA is Evolving and Agencies are Keeping Up

The ninth Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) Scorecard, released in December, showed promising progress in meeting goals and in holding agencies accountable for their modernization efforts. For the first time, three different agencies earned an "A" or higher. The General Services Administration and Department of Education both received an "A+" and The United States Agency for International Development got an "A." This scorecard was the only time a failing grade was not handed out. Overall, agencies have upped their scores from a "D" average on the first scorecard in 2015 to a current "C+" average.

Scores are not the only thing that has increased. What is being measured has also grown. The first scorecard only measured four areas -- data center consolidation, IT portfolio review savings, incremental development, and risk assessment transparency. The latest version has nine subcategories that include measuring progress against recently enacted legislation.

Big gains in scores were found in regard to compliance with the Megabyte Act, legislation that aims to improve the way agencies manage their software licenses. Gains were also found in giving CIOs more authority. In fact, the reporting found that 22 agencies had permanent CIOs, two had acting CIOs and, of those, 16 reported directly to leadership.

Progress on data center consolidation also continues, though not without controversy. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) voiced concern with the Office of Management and Budget's latest guidance on data center consolidation that changes the language to "optimization" and not "consolidation." He argued that consolidation is what frees up capital and drives cost savings, an area where agencies still struggle. Continue reading

Department Spotlight ~ U.S. Department of Agriculture: Harvesting Crops and Innovation

Fall visits to the farmers market take us back to simpler times when people lived off the land. Today's farmers may provide the same "output" of food, but how they manage the growth and distribution of it has changed dramatically.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established in 1862 and was nicknamed "The People's Department" by President Lincoln because of its mission to support the farmers that feed the nation. Today, the USDA is focused on providing "leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management."

In achieving this mission, the USDA has become a hub for innovation. It was chosen as the first host agency for a modernization Center of Excellence (CoE). Spearheaded by the General Services Administration (GSA), the CoE at USDA was established to accelerate IT modernization across government to improve the public experience and increase operational efficiency. The CoE centralizes top government tech talent and combines it with private sector experts and expertise to implement best practices to move processes and technologies ahead. The CoE is focused on five functional areas: Cloud Adoption, Contact Center, Customer Experience, Data Analytics, and Infrastructure Optimization.

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Growing Our Cloud Smarts

The move to cloud computing in government has changed from a focus on Cloud First to Cloud Smart. The initial push to cloud encouraged agencies to look at cloud options when adding or updating technology but provided no direct guidance. This "Cloud First" push provided a way to educate agencies on what cloud is and why it is a viable option for deploying applications to the government workforce. This education worked, making even the most security-conscious agencies comfortable with moving data and applications to the cloud to gain new efficiencies in time and budget.

The Cloud Smart policy, a logical evolution of Cloud First, was introduced last year and provides more guidance surrounding security, procurement, and workforce skills to foster cloud adoption and implementation. While the value cloud can provide is widely accepted, procurement of cloud remains a stumbling block to wider, easier cloud adoption. The shift in spending from capital funds to operating funds and the fluidity of the fees based on need and usage require different language and structure in contracts. Security also continues to be a focus, creating new "shared responsibility" language in cloud agreements and plans.

To help you get smarter on how to be cloud smart, we've compiled a list of upcoming events that cover the areas related to a successful cloud deployment.

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FITARA 8.0 – No News is Good News

In place since 2014, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) has aimed to provide guidance and checkpoints for agencies' modernization efforts. Over the years, the compliance status of the agencies has had its ups and downs.

The latest report card, issued in June 2019 showed fairly steady performance when it comes to meeting FITARA goals and mandates. This 8.0 report card was the first to include a cybersecurity score that focused on FISMA (Federal Information Security Modernization Act) compliance. This report also took out the score for Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) as the majority of agencies are holding steady on that score and/or it is complicated by technology interdependencies.

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Opening the Data Floodgates

Part of the President's Management Agenda (PMA) calls out leveraging data as a strategic asset for more effective government. In support of this, several pieces of legislation and policy have been created to better enable and even incentivize agencies to make their data available and open for use across government and by citizens.

Federal CIO Suzette Kent recently said that the Federal Data Strategy will be released soon and will prioritize datasets that could help stimulate the economy, protect the nation, and continue important research. The guidelines will present principles that prioritize data security, privacy, and transparency.

This Federal Data Strategy follows the passage of the Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act at the beginning of the year. This law requires that all non-sensitive government data be made available in machine-readable formats by default. It also creates a Chief Data Officers Council that will address data governance across agencies.

Even before these laws and guidance were released, we've seen how access to data can impact communities. For example, in Asheville, NC, BeLoved Asheville, an activist group of homeless people, launched the Homeless Voice Project. This project filters public crime data using arrestees' addresses. They were able to show that the homeless population was being disproportionally targeted and arrested by highlighting the number of homeless shelter addresses being used. In Norfolk, VA, community groups are using data to show the impact of re-development on communities, highlighting the size of population displacement that would come with gentrification. These groups are finding there is less "shouting across the table" and common ground is easier to find when arguments are backed with data. Continue reading