How to read the FITARA scorecard grades

December 3, 2015
In The News

On November 4, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released its scorecard grading federal agencies on their implementation of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. With no agency scoring an A and the majority receiving a grade of D, it might be easy to see this as black mark on federal performance on IT spending.

But there is another way to look at this. Like any group ranking, the average rank reflects exceptions. The Department of Commerce scored a B, which included A grades in two of the four sub-sections (Data Consolidation and Risk Assessment Transparency.) GSA also scored a B grade overall, achieving an A in Incremental Development.

In addition, this is the first year for the scorecard. It is not realistic to think that all 24 agencies could achieve high scores less than a year after FITARA was enacted. What it does offer is a much-needed benchmark, supporting the classic “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” approach. This is in line with the thinking of Federal CIO Tony Scott, who suggested that the scorecard be viewed as a baseline and that real results should be assessed in six to 12 months.

Yet, even viewing it as a baseline, not a final grade, comes with a glaring spotlight on these next six or 12 months. Government agencies that hope to get a passing grade in that short timeframe need to reconsider their fundamental approach to change. After all, FITARA is as much about change management as it is about about IT spending reform.

A low grade can be a wake-up call that sparks a transformation. Now is the time for agencies to press the reset button and figure out new ways to change existing processes and deal with legacy thinking and behaviors.

There are a few lessons that round one of the FITARA scorecard can teach about change management. One is that projects and programs must be aligned to strategies and polices. This may sound obvious, but many organizations fail at aligning projects with strategy and discover too late that important projects have strayed far from course. An agency-wide approach to project and portfolio management, the core of the recently passed "Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015" (PMIAA), will help provide agencies with a structure and the support needed to ensure alignment.

Another learning is that agencies should avoid reinventing wheels or “Not Invented Here” thinking. Learn from other organizations, drive for simplicity, and execute the strategy as conceived. Leading research captured in the PMI Thought Leadership Series and developed in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Deloitte Consulting LLP highlight this exact point. The reports address the challenges of aligning projects and programs to strategy and highlight the behaviors and structures of successful organizations. These include seeking simplicity, creating a culture of portfolio management, and cultivating the right competencies. Tony Scott is already taking important steps in this direction through actions such as fostering a government-wide community among the FITARA-rated agencies and making sure that information is easily accessible to agency employees.

Some of the agencies included in the scorecard are already making great progress on this path. DOC, for example, was part of the 25-point plan pilot and one of the first to implement the FAC-P/PM IT job series. Although any improvement initiative is always a candidate for ongoing evolution, it does look like those agencies that started early in standardizing their project management framework agency-wide achieved the better scorecard grades.

Improving efficiency in government programs needs to be addressed through multiple channels to achieve the dramatic change that is needed. It is highly encouraging that The Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015 was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate. Unanimous approval is a bit of a rarity in government circles. It clearly illustrates the depth of support across the aisles for legislation aimed at improving efficiency and reducing waste in federal projects and programs. Agencies would be smart to up their game on efficient IT spending and aim to be one of the success stories while bipartisan support for this outcome is so strong. It’s much better to be in the spotlight than the crosshairs.

As for the FITARA scorecard, the grades have nowhere to go but up. IT Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, summed the situation up well when he said that it's not a secret the IT acquisition process is broken. There is a reason that no agency received an A, he said: We have work to do. The good news for federal agencies is that adopting a project and portfolio management approach means that it is not work they have to do alone or by starting from a blank page.