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GAO: Redundant Federal IT Systems Waste Money

The GAO identified four key areas for IT process improvement -- Department of Defense business systems, enterprise architecture, data centers, and e-health records -- and gave recommendations for how the government could eliminate overlap in these efforts.

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The federal government could save billions of tax dollars annually by addressing duplications in programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives that are adversely affecting the government's financial and operational effectiveness, according to a federal watchdog agency.

Some of the areas of overlap identified in a new 345-page report (PDF) from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) -- the first it's delivered after Congress directed it to report on this area -- are within single departments or agencies, while others span multiple organizations.

The agency identified 81 areas of duplication in hundreds of federal programs that are diverse in their scope and missions, ranging from agriculture to homeland security to social services to international affairs.

Not surprisingly, several key aspects of the government's implementation of IT were identified in the report as areas where overlap could be eliminated to help the government provide more efficient and effective services.

The GAO in particular identified four key areas for IT process improvement -- Department of Defense (DoD) business systems, enterprise architecture, data centers, and e-health records -- and gave recommendations for how the government could eliminate overlap in these efforts.

At the DoD, 2,300 investments in its business-system environment are fraught with overlap, including lack of standardization; multiple systems performing the same tasks; and instances where the same data is stored in multiple systems and in which the same data is entered manually into multiple systems.

Among the recommendations the GAO made to improve these areas include defining DoD business-system investments that can be implemented within the context of its federated business enterprise architecture, and a more evolved investment process that is institutionalized at all levels of the organization.

The GAO also recommended that the DoD manage its business system programs and projects with integrated institutional controls to ensure they consistently deliver benefits and capabilities on time and within budget.

While the DoD duplication problem is internal to the department, the GAO found that enterprise-architecture overlap is a cross-organizational problem, according to the report.

Maintaining legacy systems is a costly proposition for the federal government, and enterprise architectures are blueprints used by organizations for modernizing their IT environments. The GAO found that the architectures agencies are currently developing are "duplicative, poorly integrated, unnecessarily costly to maintain and interface, and unable to respond quickly to shifting environmental factors," according to the report.

Moreover, a 2006 GAO report found that agencies and departments were at different stages of enterprise architecture development and implementation, with most not "where they needed to be," according to the report.

To remedy this situation, agencies should use the GAO's enterprise architecture management maturity framework, which it recently issued as a guideline for enterprise-architecture creation, but which so far agencies have not leveraged to their fullest advantage, according to the GAO.

Duplication in data centers also is a cross-organizational duplication problem, one the government is already well aware of and currently trying to address by a broad, White House-mandated consolidation effort, according to the GAO.

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