Auditor: Government Not Spending All IT Money Wisely

David Powner of the General Accounting Office told a House subcommittee that much of the money President Bush wants for IT in fiscal 2005 is for projects on the management watch list.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 4, 2004

4 Min Read

A Congressional auditor cautioned a House panel that tens of billions of dollars the government budgets on IT each year aren't necessarily being spent wisely.

Testifying Wednesday at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, and the Census, David Powner, director of IT management issues for the General Accounting Office, pointed out that $22 billion of the nearly $60 billion President Bush seeks for IT for fiscal 2005 is for 621 major projects that are currently on the administration's management watch list. The list includes mission-critical projects that need improvement in the areas of performance measures, earned-value management, and/or IT security.

Powner, making reference to a GAO report issued in January on government IT management, gave mixed grades to agencies for their use of critical IT strategic planning and performance measurement and investment, noting that fewer than half of the practices are fully in place. For example, he said, agencies generally had IT strategic plans and goals, but these goals weren't always linked to specific performance measures that were tracked. "Without enterprisewide performance measures that are tracked against actual results, agencies lack critical information about whether their overall IT activities are achieving expected goals," he said.

Most agencies have IT investment-management boards, Powner said, but no agency had the practices associated with the oversight of IT investments fully implemented. That's needed, he said, because it provides agencies with increased assurance that each investment will achieve the desired cost, benefit, and schedule results. Although they couldn't always provide an explanation, agencies gave GAO a variety of reasons for not having practices fully in place, including vacancies in the CIO post and that their process was being revised. "Regardless of the reason," Powner testified, "these practices are important ingredients for ensuring effective strategic planning, performance measurement, and investment management, which, in turn, make it more likely that the billions of dollars in government IT investments will not be wasted."

The administration's top IT executive gave a rosier picture of government IT in her direct testimony, noting that the White House Office of Management and Budget employed the federal enterprise architecture to formulate the current federal budget that helped reduce redundancies and save taxpayers money. OMB identified six major service areas with more than $6.8 billion in IT investment funding that offer great potential for governmentwide collaboration, consolidation, and savings, said Karen Evans, OMB administrator for E-government and IT.

For instance, Evans told lawmakers, the Department of Health and Human Services is taking a leading role to bring together major government agencies that provide health services to define common work that can be shared and technologies that can be leveraged across the agencies to cut costs.

The Department of Justice brought together major federal investigative agencies to determine where to use shared technology tools to support case-management needs. The result should be a reduction in the number of unique case-management systems as well as the ability to share information when needed, she says.

Using the federal enterprise-architecture framework, Evans said, the government identified at least 103 financial-management systems planned or in use across the government. The Departments of Energy and Labor are leading a cross-agency task force of nine agencies to reduce that number sharply. The approach targets seamless data interchange among partner agencies, reduced acquisition expenditures resulting from common system requirements, and a common architecture that includes standardized data structures and business processes across government for core financial systems.

For the fiscal year 2005 budget, Evans said, employing the federal enterprise architecture, OMB has identified more areas where agencies can collaborate and consolidate systems. In addition, she said, OMB is identifying where agencies use the same technologies so they can acquire governmentwide enterprise licenses, providing a big savings to taxpayers.

Agencies are beginning to share systems. The system developed and supported by the Treasury Department processes credit-card transactions to a variety of agencies. "Rather than each agency developing their own capability," she said, "it is now possible for agencies to use to provide that capability, reducing the cost and effort for many agencies."

For preparation of the budget for fiscal 2006, still nearly 19 months away, the administration will provide government IT managers a Web-based tool to help them assess governmentwide data that's organized around the federal enterprise architecture. "With this tool, each can identify other agencies engaged in developments that are similar or identical to its [own]," Evans told the Congressional panel. "Through this tool they can identify potential collaboration partners as well as specific technology components they may be able to use, rather than develop their own."

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