It’s one thing to get good grades, but when it comes to the FITARA scorecard, which publicly tracks how well federal agencies buy and manage technology, acting on those grades is far more important.
The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act requires agencies to, among other things, keep track of their hardware and software inventories. An agency receives a C if it has a comprehensive, regularly updated inventory of software licenses. To earn an A, the inventory must be used to make cost-effective decisions.
Agency CIOs must also develop a comprehensive software licensing policy and detail the cost savings or avoidance this creates, as required by the Making Electronic Government Accountable By Yielding Tangible Efficiencies Act of 2016 (MEGABYTE). In the December 2018 scorecard, 11 agencies improved their overall grades, and the other 13 maintained their previous scores. The gains mainly came from agencies improving their software asset management.
MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how your agency can successfully migrate data to modern architectures.
Agencies Must Balance Multiple Factors to Boost FITARA Scores
Aim for a balance of operational procedures, technology, collaboration and culture change, say federal IT leaders.
“A lot of the difficulty comes from the fact that USDA is made up of 29 agencies, each having its own CIO, each funded independently based on how Congress has appropriated dollars down to the agency — not to the department,” says Flip Anderson, the Agriculture Department’s executive director of FITARA operations.
The USDA received an A in asset management in the last three twice-yearly scorecards. Anderson says that’s due to efforts to operationalize processes and procedures; for example, an acquisition approval request policy requires the CIO to approve all procurements greater than $25,000.
Agencies Change Tech and Culture to Get a Handle on Assets
In addition to establishing blanket purchase agreements that consolidate procurement for both hardware and software, the agency’s Customer and Program Management Office also makes sure that USDA isn’t buying duplicates. When a procurement request comes in, the office checks existing assets to see if there’s any equipment already purchased but not in use; if there is, the request is cancelled and the funding redistributed.
“In addition to establishing some BPAs that consolidate a lot of our procurement, whether it’s hardware or software, we’ve also got tools in place that allow us to track the software licensing,” Anderson says. “We use several tools that ride on the network and are agent- and nonagent-based to identify that hardware across the infrastructure.” IBM BigFix helps the USDA with that.
“In one case, the tool is an agent-type tool, where every device has that agent placed on it,” he says. “The main portion of the software is loaded on the infrastructure, and it will go out and ping the infrastructure and look for that signature of the agent that’s on the devices.”
Beyond policies, procedures and technologies, there’s a cultural side to asset management too.
FITARA also increased the power of CIOs — limiting each agency to one CIO and making that person responsible for the success and failure of all IT investments.
USDA leverages the CIO Council to support its CIO’s efforts across the infrastructure; its members include agency IT leaders whose CIO titles changed under the new rule.
“We try to ensure the council is up to date with all the things the CIO is doing in terms of hardware, software, infrastructure and telecommunications; they have an opportunity to weigh in,” Anderson says. “And when there are concerns, such as procurement activities for hardware and software, that is discussed, and they have an opportunity to express their support or concern.”
Collaboration and culture change are also key to how the IRS manages its IT projects, from developing quality apps to asset management, says Mona Henby, director of the Web Applications Program Management Office.
A new Agile Collaboration Center leans on iterative development to create working software faster and more frequently than traditional waterfall-style projects. It also emphasizes face-to-face collaboration to improve project transparency and shift resources quickly based on changing business priorities.
MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how agencies can overcome technical debt and replace legacy systems.
Asset Management Tools Help in Different Environments
Teams of developers and testers, with business and security experts, work on products together in the same room, using test-driven development approaches to identify errors before deployment and increase software quality over time. With multiple environments, cooperation is critical.
“We have an asset management tool for different environments,” Henby says. “We have a test environment, a development environment and a performance environment. We use another asset management tool as we move through the different environments from our operations organization.” HP Asset Manager and the Symantec Management Platform support that.
“We need to be mindful of implications as we’re moving through environments. We’ve gotten very good at it,” she adds. “We’ve tried to create tools and automation around scripting to ensure that as it goes through the environment, it stays up to the latest version of software and tooling.”
Agencies have begun to share information, looking for ways to boost FITARA scores. USDA, as the government’s first participant in the Centers of Excellence IT modernization program, has become a stopping point for agencies that want advice. Anderson posts procedures and processes online, and often fields calls from counterparts asking for advice. Some agencies meet every other Friday to discuss challenges.
“We try to share ideas and information. That’s been very helpful for us. Hopefully, it’s helpful for them too.”