U.S. Improves Success Rate Of Federal IT Projects

The OMB now identifies 489 items as "high risk" due to factors such as complexity, scope, or level of importance, down 19% from the 601 projects that were on the list in February.
The U.S. government currently has about one-fifth fewer IT projects at risk of failing or having other serious flaws compared to earlier this year, according to an updated report released today by the Office of Management and Budget.

The improvement comes as several agencies made progress in recent months meeting a number of important goals and criteria, such as migrating off legacy systems, accomplishing work on electronic-government initiatives, such as moving to E-payroll and E-document processes, and boosting security, said Karen Evans, the federal government's CIO, during a press telephone briefing with reporters on Thursday.

"The agencies are doing a good job to address problems and risks," she said. Evans' team has been working with the agencies to help them address their problems and weaknesses "investment by investment," she said.

As of March 31, OMB deemed 489 federal IT projects to be "high risk" due to factors such as complexity, scope, or level of importance, down 19% from the 601 projects that were on the high risk list in February when President Bush released his $71 billion fiscal 2009 federal IT budget proposals.

These projects now on the high risk list represent about $15 billion in fiscal 2009 IT budget requests, down from February, when the high risk projects represented $27 billion in budget requests.

Projects on the high risk list are "those requiring special attention from the highest level of agency management, but aren't projects necessarily at risk of failure," said OMB.

Also, as of March 31, the federal government had 473 major IT investments valued at $25 billion for fiscal 2009 on the OMB's "management watch list." That's a 19% decrease from the 585 investments that were on the list as of February. The "management watch list" is based on evaluating projects on several dozen criteria, including various performance measures, project management and security.

Several agencies in recent months made important progress, said Evans. For instance, in February, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services had its entire portfolio of 70 major IT investments on the management watch list. Now, there are "only" 56 on the list. That's in large part due to recent advancements such as boosting security. "Security was a major issue" in the health department, Evans said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security now has "only" 42 major IT projects on the list, versus 52 earlier this year, she said.

Still, despite the improvements, Evans admits that she's "never happy" and is still focused on helping agencies continue making progress.

The management watch and high risk evaluation lists--which OMB established in 2005--will also provide transparency to the next President's administration, Evans said. The IT project status details can help the next administration decide whether the Bush administration's IT investments match the next president's goals or should be redirected, she said.

"The idea is to leave the place better than we found it," said Evans. "Everyone in the administration is saying that," she said.

One other federal IT change since February when Bush released his fiscal 2009 IT budget proposals: Cybersecurity spending by the federal government will total about $6.8 billion in fiscal 2009, versus the $7.3 billion originally requested. That's mainly due to readjustments in agencies during their planning processes, said Evans.