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, Wal Mart 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. 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. Tom Coburn (MD) and two major GAO reports on redundancy.