Feds Fall Short On IT Project Management

Government agencies, including Health and Human Services, do a poor job of following federal IT investment guidelines, reports Government Accountability Office.
6 HIE Vendors: How They Measure Up
6 HIE Vendors: How They Measure Up
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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) are doing a mediocre job of following Office of Management and Budget (OMB) IT investment guidelines, while the Department of Defense (DoD), the Treasury and Veterans Affairs (VA) have fallen short when it comes to developing policies and performing analyses of ongoing IT investments, according to a new report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report, "Agencies Need to Strengthen Oversight of Billions of Dollars in Operations and Maintenance Investments," looked at these five government agencies, which spend a combined $37 billion out of the $55 billion allotted for government IT systems in acquisition or development. The report gauged whether these investments add value to the agency and if there are more cost-effective ways to perform these IT initiatives.

In an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare, David Powner, director of IT issues at GAO, explained that his agency set out to assess these five agencies on OMB's basic requirements for operations and maintenance systems. For example, OMB guidelines call for agencies to develop an operational analysis policy and for the federal agencies to perform analyses annually to ensure steady-state investments continue to meet agency needs. The guidance also includes 17 key factors -- areas like cost, schedule, customer satisfaction and innovation -- that should be addressed in these analyses.

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"We took a sample of 75 investments in these five agencies and broke our findings down into two areas," Powner explained. "The Department of Homeland Security and HHS have policies in place to do these operational analyses for their systems on an annual basis." But when it came to DHS and HHS performing these analyses annually, Powner said the results were a "mixed bag ... not all the investments were getting all the analyses." HHS, for example, analyzed seven of its eight investments in IT, but not all key factors in the OMB guidelines were addressed. "So the DHS and HHS answered everything partially," Powner said.

On the flip side, Powner continued, the DoD, the VA and the Treasury not only didn't have policies in place in 2011, but none performed analyses asked by the OMB. The bottom line for all five agencies, Powner said, is that all need to first develop policies and then conduct analyses on an ongoing basis. "They need to make sure they're getting it done in a more comprehensive manner," he said.

In terms of costs, Powner added, approximately $3 billion worth of investments across the five agencies didn't receive analysis. "The question was, is this $3 billion being wisely spent on these systems, or is there is a better way to do it?" he said. "Billions of dollars were going un-assessed on these systems; we wanted to make sure these systems meet mission value and were done in the most appropriate manner."

The GAO also made recommendations to OMB to help with OMB's "oversight and transparency," Powner said. "There's an IT dashboard that provides transparency on investments across the government ... [W]e suggested to OMB for agencies [to include a link] to their latest investment in IT operations. That way, they can see what investments are getting an appropriate look or not."