White House Scraps, Overhauls IT Projects

Changes to Department of Justice and Interior plans show Office of Management and Budget isn't going to be shy about canceling or reforming IT projects.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

September 20, 2010

4 Min Read

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An Obama administration review of more than two dozen high-risk federal IT projects that began in August has begun to bear fruit, as federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced on Monday the cancellation of a behind-schedule, over-budget Department of Justice system and the overhaul of a Department of Interior project.

The moves, which Kundra announced at a regular meeting of the federal CIO Council (a government-operated, consultative body of federal CIOs), add to mounting evidence that, as part of ongoing IT project management reform efforts, the Office of Management and Budget isn't going to be shy about scrapping or reforming IT projects that are no longer working.

"For too long we have witnessed runaway projects that waste billions of dollars and are years behind schedule," Kundra told the CIO Council Monday morning, according to a transcript of his prepared remarks. "We cannot afford to carry on as we have for decades, sitting idly while IT investments fail and waste billions of dollars. We must act now and relentlessly execute with an unwavering focus on results."

The first of the two projects in question, the Department of Justice's Litigation Case Management System (LCMS), would have replaced the agency's seven existing case management systems with a common platform that would have made it easier to share case-related information across the agency and with other related systems, such as the FBI's Sentinel case management system.

However, LCMS was four years behind schedule and had ballooned to $257 million in expected costs, more than double the originally expected budget of $128 million. On a rating scale of zero to 10, with 10 representing the best performing projects, the federal IT Dashboard rates the Litigation Case Management System a 2.5.

With those metrics in mind, the agency halted work on the program in June pending a program review, which led to Monday's announcement that the project would be scrapped. Justice will now make more targeted investments that will still make the disparate systems interoperable, though it won't result in one enterprise case management system.

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The Department of Interior, meanwhile, has overhauled its Incident Management Analysis and Reporting System (IMARS). When complete, IMARS will provide the agency with a department-wide information collection, analysis, and reporting system for law enforcement and security incident information. However, the project was rated as a 4.5 out of 10 on the federal IT Dashboard.

"While there is great confidence with the current plans in place for this investment, there is an element of risk related to the customer satisfaction as a customer-facing system has not yet been deployed," Interior CIO Bernard Mazer wrote in an evaluation of the project posted on the IT Dashboard.

Interior has now committed to deliver incremental functionality every six months, rather than waiting until closer to completion to begin deploying the customer-facing system. "This enables law enforcement officers as well as managers to gain access to the system more quickly, thus providing a tool for them to perform their job responsibilities more efficiently," Mazer said in an e-mailed statement.

The changes to these two agencies' projects come on the heels of an announcement just last week that, as part of another broad review of federal financial management systems, the Small Business Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Housing and Urban Development were scaling back financial management system upgrades that would collectively save those agencies more than $300 million.

More broadly, in his remarks, Kundra characterized his strategy to overall federal IT reform as three-fold. First, he said, it is vital to shed light on federal IT performance and create public accountability by creating the federal IT Dashboard. Second, it remains important to make "tough decisions" to scrap or overhaul failing projects. And third, OMB has been and will continue to focus on "structural deficiencies" by working to solve the root causes of governance, procurement, personnel, and budgeting problems.

Kundra also noted that the government is identifying "bright spots in the federal IT portfolio" that can serve to help inform best practices in government IT management, including the Department of Education's modernization of web-based student aid applications, the Department of Labor's new paperless employee benefit system, and the Defense Information Systems Agency's data center consolidation efforts.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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