In a recently published report, the federal watchdog agency lists common factors underlying the successful acquisition of seven federal IT investments, in the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.
The total lifecycle costs of the programs--which were judged on how they achieved their respective cost, schedule, scope, and performance goals--was about $5 billion, according to the GAO.
[ Learn more about the military's tech plans. Read Pentagon CIO's Tech Revamp: 4 Priorities. ]
The nine factors underlying all of the successful programs were:
1. Program officials were actively engaged with stakeholders.
2. Program staff had the necessary knowledge and skills.
3. Senior department and agency executives supported the programs.
4. End users and stakeholders were involved in the development of requirements.
5. End users participated in testing of system functionality prior to formal end user acceptance testing.
6. Government and contractor staff were stable and consistent.
7. Program staff prioritized requirements.
8. Program officials maintained regular communication with the prime contractor.
9. Programs received sufficient funding.
The GAO examined programs from December 2010 through October 2011 for the report.
The programs the GAO considered successful ranged from a project within the Census Bureau to create a system for collecting and integrating census responses from forms and telephone interviews; a DOD military logistics information-sharing program; a modern tax-processing system for the IRS; and a Customs and Border Protection program that used a collection of automated identification technologies to facilitate the identification of travelers into the United States from other countries in the Western Hemisphere.
The successful programs, six out of seven of which are currently operational, are as follows:
--The Census Bureau's Decennial Response Integration System (Commerce)
--The Defense Information Systems Agency's Global Combat Support System--Joint Increment 7 (Defense)
--The National Nuclear Security Administration's Manufacturing Operations Management Project (Energy)
--The U.S. Customs Border and Protection's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (Homeland Security)
--The Federal Aviation Administration's Integrated Terminal Weather System (Transportation)
--The Internal Revenue Service's Customer Account Data Engine 2 (Treasury)
--The Veterans Health Administration Occupational Health Record-keeping System (Veterans Affairs)
The federal government plans to spend at least $81 billion on IT in fiscal year 2012, and the Obama administration is taking steps to make the most of those investments. To that end, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has launched several initiatives to examine where the federal government may have gone wrong in the past and to help agencies refocus IT investments. The GAO's report was one of them.
Under former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, the OMB also identified a list of high-priority IT projects and either cancelled ones that weren't working or engaged in salvage efforts to make them work more effectively.
Current CIO Steven VanRoekel, who took over for Kundra after he left in August, has continued administration efforts to eliminate wasteful IT programs through Obama's Campaign to Cut Waste, which he unveiled in June.
Other efforts to boost the success of IT programs as well as agencies' accountability for making them successful include TechStat, a review process agencies undertake to make sure IT projects are running smoothly and meeting desired goals.
Our annual Federal Government IT Priorities Survey shows how agencies are managing the many mandates competing for their limited resources. Also in the new issue of InformationWeek Government: NASA veterans launch cloud startups, and U.S. Marshals Service completes tech revamp. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)