Every COTS Sale Cleared at the Very Top?

Christopher Wiedemann_headshot-65 x 85by Chris Wiedemann, Senior Analyst

To many, department-level CIOs are a little bit like the Wizard of Oz – a man in a castle far away, making pronouncements from behind the curtain while the rest of us just keep our eyes on the yellow brick road. But what if every COTS sale had to be cleared at the very top? After some recent developments in the House, it just might happen. Remember the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA)? The bill just passed again on a voice vote last Tuesday. A companion measure, called the Federal Information Technology Savings, Accountability, and Transparency Act (FITSAT), is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Since it is back on the legislative docket, let’s have a quick refresher on FITARA. Basically, what this bill does is address the number of CIOs in the federal government (over 200 at last count) by removing almost all of them. It limits each federal department (e.g. DHS, HHS etc.) to one CIO, who would have a Congressionally appropriated budget, as well as complete visibility into and control over that budget. The impacts on the federal IT industry are hard to gauge, but it would certainly be significant if, for example, every COTS purchase had to be cleared at the very top of the IT food chain.

Now, there are a few changes to discuss this time around, both in the new FITARA and in the proposed Senate FITSAT bill. The real issue of note here is that round two of FITARA includes DOD – which was explicitly not the case last time around. Those of you who are familiar with selling into DOD will know how significant that proposed change is, although it remains to be seen whether it will be removed from the final bill if the Senate ends up passing FITSAT and moving into reconciliation. Secondly, FITSAT does not grant CIOs quite the same level of budgetary authority, although it is still very important to COTS manufacturers, since it would make department CIOs directly responsible for purchasing and managing COTS products.

So, what does this mean for COTS manufacturers? Again, it’s tough to tell. Removing all the agency and subagency CIOs would certainly alter the decision making landscape – but on the other hand, the end-user communities and program management structure are unlikely to change, which means that unless you are working at the enterprise level, your customers will probably remain the same. However, what is likely to change is the emphasis placed on department-wide strategic plans and initiatives. When all sales are eventually run by the top-level CIO, they will all have to map back to that CIO’s requirements and goals. So, your takeaway here is twofold: first, stay on top of the latest developments on the Hill and be ready to react to a new legislative landscape; and two, if FITARA does become the law of the land, paying attention to those high-level strategic requirements as they are going to be more important than ever at all levels of the sales process.

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