Most Wasteful Government IT Projects Of 2013 - InformationWeek

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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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WKash
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WKash,
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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,
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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!
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