Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif) is proposing legislation that would provide sweeping reforms in the way technology is managed and acquired at federal agencies in an effort to eliminate duplication and waste.

The provisions would grant significantly more power to federal chief information officers to control the technology that agencies acquire.

In spite of 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.

“While I think the IT community has to applaud Chairman Issa for modernizing the Clinger-Cohen Act, this is just a draft and I am hopeful that he will be open to several key improvements as it moves forward,” said Mark Forman, former administrator, Office of E-Government and IT, White House Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush Administration.

Forman 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.

“Each program must be able to support its operations, and Congress has been unwilling to get rid of redundantly funded programs…so it is unlikely that consolidating purchases be able to satisfy program desires for having their own widget and may drive unecessary customization of commercial items” said Forman.

“Currently, there are very few direct appropriations for IT projects. Rather it is a cost of operations and the funds tend to go to a working capital fund managed by a CIO. The Clinger Cohen Act governance model, which the VA CIO authority embraces, is based on programs (which get direct appropriations) clearly articulating their capital budgets.

According to a draft of the bill, the legislation would seek to change how IT is managed within the federal government, by:

  • Providing increased authority of agency Chief Information Officers over information technology.
  • Granting the federal Chief Information Officers Council a leading role in coordinating IT policies.

It would also seek to eliminate the duplication and waste in IT acquisition, with provisions that would:

  • Focus on federal data center consolidation and performance requirements.
  • Institute an inventory of information technology assets.
  • Develop a uniform classification of commodity information technology assets.
  • Address website consolidation and transparency.
  • Eliminate unnecessary duplication of contracts by requiring business case analysis.

The bill also would provide measures for streamlining and strengthening IT acquisition, including:

  • Establishing a Federal Commodity IT Acquisition Center.
  • Designating Assisted Acquisition Centers of Excellence.
  • Expanding the training and use of information technology acquisition cadres.

The legislation is also setting its sites on several broader acquisition reforms as well including:

  • Maximizing the benefit of the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative.
  • Promoting transparency of blanket purchase agreements.
  • Clarifying severable services contracts.
  • Promoting Government-wide support for the use and development of open source software.

Forman noted that one problem the draft appears to overlook “is the movement to IT-As-A-Service, which shifts the spending model from capital budgeting to operations and maintenance budgeting. So, the language in this draft may force government to stay in the ‘IT as a capital investment’ world, counter to industry trends and best practices,” Forman said. “This will be unaffordable.”

“Alternatively the programs could take their appropriated dollars and move outside the new legislation by buying Software as a Service (aka cloud computing). Digging deeper, you will see that the staff took (former Federal CIO) Vivek Kundra’s 25 point plan and built on it to create the draft legislation. I learned a long time ago that Congress cannot legislate good management…it can only legislate a governance structure.”

Forman, now co-founder at Government Transaction Services, also suggested that without a performance improvement target specified by Congress, “agencies will have difficulty making the tough decisions.”

(Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include additional reporting. News of the proposed legislation was first reported by NextGov.)