Apr 27 2015

GITEC 2015: FITARA, Meet Shark Tank

Agencies are turning to investment review boards to assess technology spending.

Many federal programs looking for funding in a post-FITARA world will need to present their case to the government equivalent of Mark Cuban, Daymond John and Mr. Wonderful.

Joyce Hunter, the acting CIO at USDA, said her department and many others across government will rely heavily on investment review boards, or IRBs, in a process she compared to the show Shark Tank, where emerging companies pitch their worth to famous investors.

“I’m going to tell people to watch the show and have their pitch ready,” Hunter said Monday at the 2015 GITEC Summit in Baltimore. “I am going to tell our board members to approach these investments as if they were investing their own money, their 401(k). We need to understand the case for investment and be prudent about what we fund, making sure we are getting a solid return on our investment, just like it’s done in the private sector.”

While the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, does not require departments to use IRBs, departments see them as an intelligent way to invest technology dollars.

FITARA will give federal CIOs authority over their department’s IT spending, although the exact details are still being worked out at the Office of Management and Budget. Hunter and Kevin Cooke, deputy CIO at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, both indicated they would like OMB to take a moderate approach to the authority CIOs are given.

“What I would like to see is a system that is not too restrictive and allows us to continue the collaborative environment we’ve created within our department, but to also give us the authority to bring in the technologies that will keep us working in a modern environment,” Cooke said.

Hunter echoed Cooke’s statements, saying she does not want FITARA to become a regulatory burden overflowing with paperwork — “I don’t want to spend my day behind my desk signing purchase orders” — but to have enough juice to bring the department’s decision-makers together to talk about technology needs on a regular basis.

“This will help the conversation,” she said. “It will force us all out of the office to have fruitful conversations.”

Hunter, who served as CEO of the volunteer services organization HavServe before coming to USDA nearly two years ago, noted that the private sector is moving at a rapid pace with technology, and the federal government can no longer be held back by finger-pointing and questions about technology procurement.

She’s hopeful that FITARA will end some of that. She also believes that the IRBs, which are used regularly in private industry, will bring more accountability to how the money is spent.

“The programs we invest in will have to report back to the board and to OMB,” Hunter said. “No longer can some say, ‘I need money for farmers.’ We need details. We need a solid pitch that makes us believe in you.”

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