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Applaud FITARA Oversight, Don't Forget About Government Management

To its credit, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has done a good job overseeing the implementation of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) with a pledge by IT Subcommittee Chairman Will Hurd (R-TX) to drill down deeper into FITARA compliance across the federal government. These actions are to be applauded. What's missing from the Oversight Committee's agenda is a focus on in-the-weeds government management and operations - after all this used to be the Government Operations Committee. These issues aren't sexy, and when I was on the committee we used to point that fact out at just about every hearing we had, but they are critically important and with so much happening from a management standpoint I think they deserve the attention and focus of the committee.

There are three big things that I see happening in the Executive Branch that I believe need to have a check from the Legislative Branch -- shared services, category management/strategic sourcing, and the revisions to OMB Circular A-130. Sounds boring, right? Let me tell you why each is important. Hint: We are spending $100s of billions a year on them.

Shared services: OMB has embarked on a mission to implement shared services across the entire federal government in areas like finance, HR, and geospatial. They have created new office at GSA to oversee the initiative and are posied to spend $10s of billions over the next 10 years or so to implement these plans. Industry has lots of questions about how these initiatives will play out and what their role will be and the only dialogue we have had has been with the Executive Branch. The last Congressional hearing on shared services was more than 5 years ago. Shared services needs and deserves the attention of Congress if for no other reason than to simply make sure what they have proposed is workable. I blogged about this last month.

Category management: The universe of commonly pruchased goods and services potentially impacted by the Administration's category management initiative is $277 billion annually according to GSA. Let me say that again - $277 billion annually. GSA has moved aggressively to push this initiative government-wide, focused on 10 critical areas including professional services, security, travel, office management and information technology and they have done so largely in a vacuum. No real oversight has been conducted on these ideas and yet strategic sourcing on which the category management initiative is based has had its ups and downs over the years. The long and short of it is that for certain commodity items, strategic sourcing has the potential to reduce cost and improve efficiency, but like so many areas once it gets a little more complex than a simple commodity, savings tend to fade. With $277 billion at stake, I think Congress should engage.

Circular A-130: Nothing puts a crowd to sleep quicker than taking about a draft OMB Circular, right? Probably true, but this one hasn't been updated in 15 years (before smart phones and tablets!!!) and governs how we implement information technology across the federal government. What emerges from this process will be in place for years to come and have an important impact on government's ability to move off legacy systems and toward more innovative technology. A little oversight from Congress might ensure that they play a role in shaping this important document, but to date we haven't seen anything and the clock is ticking.

So, the Executive Branch is going full speed ahead to make massive changes to the way government operates, with long-ranging impacts on industry and the committee once know as Government Operations is letting them go forward completely unchecked. Usually you see more of this when Congress and the Administration are controlled by the same political party, but rarely when the situation is as it is today.

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