WASHINGTON — The Senate advanced a bill that would make information technology goal-setting for federal agencies more collaborative as Congress seeks to spur modernization of government operations.

The Senate passed a bill with amendments on Nov. 15 that would require more senior federal executives to participate in setting agency’s IT performance plans. The bipartisan Performance Enhancement Reform Act, introduced last April by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), also requires agencies to provide evidence of what their technology and personnel needs are in achieving goals.

Federal agencies are required to set an annual performance plan, which serves as “direct linkage” between long-term goals of the strategic plans and what managers and staff do on a daily basis. Congress has said in the past that these reports ought to be highly specific in order to drive everyday operations that chip away at years-long projects. Otherwise, managers may be subject to the “hollow government” phenomenon, where an agency lacks adequate resources to meet its mission.

“We are glad to see Congress authorizing agencies to consider the modern technological investments necessary to drive performance in meeting their missions and servicing the American people,” said Ross Nodurft, executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation, in a statement to Federal Times.

The bill was introduced last year on the heels of discussions by the House’s Subcommittee on Government Operations about the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act scorecard, which grades federal agencies on an annual basis on how well they manage and secure IT.

FITARA has been a government-wide catalyst for updating the way the federal government buys and uses computers. Federal chief information officers have been tapped by the law to advise agency heads on acquiring IT in a way that is secure, innovative and cost-effective.

At the time, only the chief human capital officer of an agency was required to participate in the creation of performance plans, which left out other top agency officials possessing knowledge that could improve how federal agencies set goals and measure achievements.

The Government Accountability Office found that former agency CIOs reported challenges in achieving meaningful collaboration with other executives, which is essential to driving successful outcomes.

Now, agencies’ chief performance officers would be required to collaborate with not just the CHCO and the CIO, but also the chief data officer and chief financial officer to prepare the annual performance plans.

“They made this the collective responsibility of the C-suite,” said Kevin Walsh, director of GAO’s Information Technology and Cybersecurity team. “In the private sector, the CIO is more part of the team. There’s no competition. It’s ‘hey, everybody’s working together to get the job done,’ which doesn’t always happen on the federal side of things.”

Walsh said codifying this into law will encourage more of that behavior in the public sector.

The bill would also tell agencies to publish their technology modernization investments, system upgrades, and technology skills of their staff.

“Modernizing the operations of the federal government requires a culture that recognizes the importance of data and technology to the overall mission of the agency,” said Gordon Bitko, senior vice president for the public sector of the Washington-based Information Technology Industry Council. “The Performance Enhancement Reform Act helps agencies make that transition by ensuring modernization is a priority at all levels, and ensures key agency executives, like the Chief Information Officer and the Chief Data Officer, have a role in the development of performance plans.”

Costs associated with implementing the legislation are estimated to be less than $500,000 over the 2022 to 2026 period, according to analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. Many of the provisions of the bill would codify existing guidelines made by the Office of Management and Budget, keeping costs down, it said.

“You’d think the things this bill requires would be common sense – when making an agency performance plan, use the people with the right expertise and take into account what it’s going to take to set realistic performance goals and make the plan work,” said Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) during a committee hearing over the summer. “But that’s not always the case. This costs valuable resources, and it has to change if we want to stop wasting time and money.”

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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