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Federal IT Reform Confronts Old Foes

Despite some progress, persistent challenges -- including duplicative IT systems and poor program oversight -- hamper efforts at reforming federal IT operations.

Despite some progress, persistent challenges -- including duplicative IT systems and poor program oversight -- hamper efforts at reforming federal IT operations.

That was the bottom line in testimony provided by federal CIO Vivek Kundra during a Senate hearing on ways to eliminate wasteful IT spending in the federal government. Dave McClure, associate administrator for the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, and David Powner, director of IT management issues with the Government Accountability Office, also testified at the April 12 hearing.

The feds have saved $3 billion over the past two years by eliminating wasteful spending, consolidating IT infrastructure, and investing in new technologies such as cloud computing, Kundra said. However, he acknowledged that it's hard to gauge how much money has been wasted on big-budget IT projects that were eventually abandoned.

The Office of Management and Budget is trying to identify at-risk IT projects through its TechStat review program. So far, TechStat has eliminated four troubled projects, but rather than kill projects, agencies are more often "rescoping" them to deliver results faster, Kundra said. The TechStat model, already applied to 58 fed IT projects, will be applied to 300more in the months ahead, he said.

OMB wants agencies to use cloud computing where possible to meet new IT requirements. So far, 75 systems, including email at GSA and the Department of Interior, have been identified for transition to the cloud. Agencies have begun consolidating data centers as part of a plan to eliminate 800 of them over four years, but other redundancies must be addressed. Powner said agencies requested $2.5 billion in fiscal 2011 to fund 600separate human resources systems and $3 billion for more than 500 financial management systems. "There's duplication in what we're looking at," he said.

The linchpin to better performance is developing the skills needed for IT program management, said Kundra, who made that a priority in the IT reform plan he introduced in December. "No matter how effective our programs and technologies are, " he said, "the success rests on effective program managers."

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