Federal agencies closed out 2018 by making mostly forward progress on IT modernization initiatives, according to a Government Accountability Office evaluation released Dec. 11.

All of the 24 agencies evaluated by the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act managed to pull above a failing grade in their December 2018 evaluations, with the largest number of "B" grades the scorecard has ever awarded.

According to a detailed report on the scorecard, issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, much of the improvement is due to drastically higher grades in the software licensing category of the scorecard.

That category was first introduced in the November 2017 evaluations, and proved to be the largest pain point for agencies for over a year.

Agencies improved scores and staved off declines in the 2018 end-of-year IT modernization evaluation.
Agencies improved scores and staved off declines in the 2018 end-of-year IT modernization evaluation.

“Since the prior scorecard in May 2018, 11 agencies increased their letter grade and 13 remained the same. Much of this growth is due to agencies’ improvements in the software licensing area," the report noted. “In particular, since the committee included software licensing area on the scorecard in June 2017, 16 agencies have implemented a comprehensive, regularly-updated inventory of software licenses; and also used their inventory to make cost-effective decisions."

Software licensing proved to be one of the most successful evaluation categories of the scorecard in December 2018, with 18 A’s awarded.

The Small Business Administration managed the greatest improvement in its grades, moving from a D+ earlier this year to a B+ by December. That improvement was the result of significantly higher grades in both CIO authority enhancements and software licensing.

The scorecard also found slightly improved authorities for agency chief information officers, with the Department of Health and Human Service’s reporting structure changed to allow its CIO to report to the deputy secretary.

“Among other things, FITARA set out to ensure that federal chief information officers had a significant role in agencies’ IT decisions. However, the committee has heard that, in many cases, these CIOs do not report to the head of their agency. Given the history of federal IT failures, the committee is concerned that CIOs are not adequately empowered,” the detailed report said.

Ensuring CIO authority has also been an important initiative for the Trump administration, as the president signed an executive order in May 2018 that mandated higher-level involvement for federal agencies’ top technology officials.

But the widespread grade improvements do not guarantee smooth sailing for agencies on the next scorecard, likely to be released in late spring 2019; the committee is considering the addition of a cybersecurity grade based on the Federal Information Security Management Act’s legislative requirements.

New additions have, in the past, driven FITARA grades down as agencies learn to accommodate the new requirements, and most agencies received a D or F on the test cybersecurity evaluation included in the December 2019 scorecard.

The House committee will hold a hearing Dec. 12 to further discuss the results of the scorecard with agencies and GAO.