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Friday, April 22, 2016

Exceptionalism

The procurement manifestation of NIMBY-ism is exceptionalism: I'm a unique critter and too precious to be subjected to the procurement rules.

I have previously posts concerning the expression of exceptionalism in the esteemed halls of academia, e.g., here.

This article is about the precious IT industry. Read the article at the link for fullness and accuracy and to avoid my editing for my own purposes. (FITARA is the acronym for the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.)

National labs' FITARA exemption nixed in Senate funding bill
The Energy Department's national laboratories will likely lose their exemption to procurement rules in the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act after just one year.

Under FITARA's enhanced CIO authorities, Cabinet-level IT chiefs typically have budget authority and some influence over hiring when it comes to the activities of their bureaus and agencies. The Senate's fiscal 2017 energy and water development appropriations bill would not renew a provision from last year's funding bill that allowed the national labs to conduct IT procurement without the involvement of DOE's CIO.

The labs and its contractors had sought the exemption because they believed their supercomputing programs should not be treated like garden-variety IT. They had a well-placed advocate on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"Our national laboratories are building the fastest research supercomputers in the world and developing next-generation exascale machines," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee's Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, told FCW in June 2015. "One-size-fits-all models don't work well, and I am concerned that this well-intentioned law could make it more difficult to develop the technology we need to support the Department of Energy's research and national security missions."

In its budget request for fiscal 2017, the Obama administration advocated a rescission of the language that authorized the exemption.

In a June 2, 2015, letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan called the exemption "highly problematic." He wrote that, if passed, the provision would "eliminate the administration's ability to ensure information technology resources effectively support the department's mission by reducing duplicative IT systems, implementing a comprehensive cybersecurity solution and addressing other IT management issues that support the president's goal to deliver a government that is more effective, efficient and accountable."

Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Anne Rung echoed that sentiment during a House hearing that same month, saying, "It's our viewpoint that FITARA is a tremendous management tool for the agencies, and we are not carving out the Department of Energy labs."

Although the White House appears to have won the fight, there is a catch: If the government is funded on the basis of a continuing resolution for 2017, rather than by new appropriations bills, the exemption will likely remain in force. Given that the appropriations process for fiscal 2017 is taking place against the backdrop of a presidential election, a continuing resolution is a strong possibility.

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