Government // Leadership
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12/27/2013
09:06 AM
Elena Malykhina
Elena Malykhina
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Most Wasteful Government IT Projects Of 2013

Federal agencies continue to pour millions into overlapping IT projects. Check out the worst offenders.
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(Source: Surat Lozowick, Flickr)
(Source: Surat Lozowick, Flickr)

How big a problem is wasteful spending for the federal government? As Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) points out in Wastebook 2013, an annual survey that looks at the government's inefficiencies, there are 100 projects that have cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion. The list includes information technology, such as the hundreds of millions of dollars the government has spent on duplicative IT systems.

In his survey, Coburn references a September report from federal watchdog agency GAO. That report reviewed 590 technology investments and found 12 potentially identical IT projects at the departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Defense (DOD), and Health and Human Services (HHS). These particular agencies were selected because they spend the most on IT. The duplicative projects identified by GAO accounted for approximately $321 million in IT spending between fiscal years 2008 and 2013.

The government budgets approximately $82 billion each year for IT. "By addressing these duplications, the agencies will be able to provide assurance they are avoiding investing in unnecessary systems and thus saving resources," the GAO said.

In his survey, Coburn highlights another project that could have saved the government time and money: the Department of Agriculture's mobile device management (MDM) integration. In August 2012, the USDA issued a request for proposal for a "next generation" mobility initiative with potential to increase the agency's mobile users from 15,000 to more than 100,000. Since the start of the project, the agency ran into rollout issues, which, according to Coburn's report, are due to incompatibilities with contractors it hired.

"One of these three contractors was awarded $212.1 million in government contracts just in 2013. The contractor with the incompatible software has several multi-million dollar government contracts with the CIA, NSA, FBI, DHS, and the Air Force," said Coburn.

In April 2012, Office of Management and Budget's then acting director Jeff Zients and federal CIO Steven VanRoekel issued a memo urging federal agencies to focus on high-value IT investments and put an end to deployment of redundant IT services. The memo introduced two new initiatives: one called PortfolioStat, which reviews agency IT portfolios, and another that requires agencies to develop consolidation plans for commodity IT services.

Three federal CIOs told Congress last year that they were trying to reduce duplicative IT investments in their departments. DOD CIO Teri Takai, former DHS CIO Richard Spires, and Department of Energy CIO at the time Michael Locatis said they created new IT governance committees and other processes in order to help them eliminate overlapping IT systems. Their testimony followed the release of a 2012 report by the GAO, which found that the DOD and DOE have duplicative IT systems that could cost the agencies $1.2 billion and $8 million, respectively.

Despite these efforts by federal CIOs to reduce waste, the GAO's latest report shows that while agencies are making progress, there's still a lot of work ahead. Take a look at these examples.

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politics_right
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politics_right,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/3/2014 | 6:32:32 PM
Solution? Elusive
Martin Gross has written several excellent books on govt. waste, but he appears to think there is some rhyme or reason  to government spending. It's all about growing your budget and prestige, which is the corrupted moderrn meaning of "politics". Plato and Aristotle would be disgusted at our state of affairs.
anon5553850221
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anon5553850221,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/2/2014 | 9:50:08 AM
What happened?
This report does not provide explanations (Did I miss something?) to reasons behind such huge waste. Even within the same agency, nobody knows what others are doing?
anon9458049733
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anon9458049733,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/2/2014 | 9:48:53 AM
redundancy or waste?
Not a "belt and suspenders" type of person who apparently wants to design in a single point of failure. Is the a shock that, with so many, that things do not work?
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
12/31/2013 | 12:23:33 PM
As if the private sector doesn't waste money?
No one likes to see taxpayer dollars go down the drain, let alone $1 billion. But let's not lose site of the fact that big investments fail all the time in the private sector.

Consider the write downs of the banking industry on loans that went bad during the housing collapse. We're talking nearly $40 billion each for Citibank and USB.

Or consider Canad'a Barrick Gold, which had to walk away from a failed mining investment just this year and took a $8.7 billion hit. 

Or even HP, which reported a net loss in its third fiscal quarter of $8.9 billion, largely because of a major write-off in the value of its Electronic Data Systems unit (which it bought for $13.9 billion and failed to yield the growth H.P. had hoped for.)

At least the Air Force had the courage to walk away after $1 billion, instead of trying to salvage what was actually a $5 billion planned investment.

Finally, it's important to remember that much of the waste and duplicative spending in government is a direct result of Congressmen who fear kilingl programs that would lead to the elimination of jobs in their districts. Time and again, even the worst programs that agencies want to kill continue to be funded (by law, via Congress) because of political deference to the voters back home. 

I'm with Rob Preston on this one. Senator Coburn's list of wasteful/duplicative government IT projects is actually a sign that the executive branch has made good progress in weeding out poor performing IT projects.

 
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
12/31/2013 | 9:17:48 AM
Re: If government only 'wasted' $350M per year, it sounds like a success story
A billion here, a billion there and soon we're talking about real money.

The report doesn't identify "only" $350 million in wasteful federal government IT spending. It identifies close to $350 million in duplicate IT projects. The waste certainly goes much deeper across government agencies. Either way, it's nothing to crow about.

I just love it when wasteful government spending is broken down to per-person or per-day/month increments to show how minimal the spending is. For that matter, $350 million amounts to only about 4 cents per American per hour. Chump change!
anon9355256492
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anon9355256492,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2013 | 10:20:26 PM
If government only 'wasted' $350M per year, it sounds like a success story
Irresponsible journalism. 

1. The USAF project represents $1B spent over 8 years, how many other projects contain multi-year spending?

2. The redundant medical, dental, and Medicare systems show the total operational cost, not the wasteful, redundant amount. How many of these examples appear inflated for sensationalism?

3. If the top 6 wasteful projects equal $350M/year, that is not even one half of one percent of the $82B Federal IT budget. You got snowed with these softballs they gave you.

4. $350M/year found in the top wasteful projects of 2013 is equal to $1 per American. Give it up.

 

P.S. I'd like more info on the NSF ARG to attract more young women to STEM. There is nothing on Google.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2013 | 10:15:29 PM
Where is the accountability
Where was Portfoliostat to check out the IT resume of the contractor chosen for the healthcare dot gov. debacle? Had the Obama Administration bothered to conduct any sort of due diligencing it would have discovered that the company was previously sued by 22 different states and school ddistricts. Instead, it plowed forward in the same reckless manner the Congress did when it passed the epic fail ACA.
anon9823936674
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anon9823936674,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2013 | 10:08:10 PM
Where is the accountability to the voters?
Where was Portfoliostat to check out the IT resume of the contractor chosen for the healthcare dot gov. debacle? Had the Obama Administration bothered to conduct any sort of due diligencing it would have discovered that the company was previously sued by 22 different states and school ddistricts. Instead, it plowed forward in the same reckless manner the Congress did when it passed the epic fail ACA.
J_Brandt
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J_Brandt,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2013 | 12:17:00 PM
Re: The easy fix
Hmm I like that idea!
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2013 | 11:45:24 AM
Re: $1 billion down the drain on an uncompleted Air Force project?
I cannot believe that the government spends money on duplicate projects. No revenue producing organization would ever do that.

I think we really need to question whether government is really capable of building efficient IT systems. They are proving through these Wastebook findings that they are hapless in the face of IT procurement and project execution. 
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