Federal CIO Launches 'TechStat'

Vivek Kundra aims to identify federal IT projects that are over budget, behind schedule, or underperforming.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

February 11, 2010

4 Min Read

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has launched a formal process to dig deep into at-risk and failing IT projects in the federal government, and those that come out on the wrong side of analysis could end up on the chopping block.

This decision-making process is beginning to take place through what the White House's Office of Management and Budget calls TechStat sessions, meetings with the OMB where agency CIOs, CFOs, and other key stakeholders hammer out solutions to problem IT projects that are over budget, behind schedule, or underperforming.

"We're going to review investments and take decisive actions so we can terminate projects that are not yielding dividends for the American people, turn around projects that can be turned around, and halt those where we believe that there's serious issues," Kundra said on a Wednesday conference call with reporters. The goals, Kundra said, include reducing wasteful spending, improving government performance and sharing best practices among agencies who've tackled similar problems.

The effort is in its early stages, having formally begun in January. Kundra said in a follow-up interview Thursday that he's spending about 50% of his time getting the program up and running. He's already holding three or four TechStat sessions weekly. However, he's looking to ramp TechStat up even further.

Current plans are to gradually increase the frequency of TechStat meetings, create a more permanent, streamlined process that looks at every major IT investment across government, and push the TechStat concept out into agencies as well, so that CIOs and other IT managers hold their own meetings. "This is going to happen not just with me alone," Kundra said. "I'm making sure that CIOs across the federal government are going to adopt this and make sure that these sessions are being run at a departmental level."

Today, TechStat topics are chosen at least partially based on data reported on the White House's IT Dashboard, which gives both the public and federal managers insight into the performance of federal IT projects. Kundra has referred to performance management efforts like this as "stage two" of IT Dashboard's usefulness.

Before each session even begins, the OMB and the subject agency do substantial amounts of preliminary work to determine how, whether, and when a project might need to be turned around, paused, or stop.

TechStat ultimately traces its lineage back to the New York City Police Department's CompStat performance management program, which was later adapted and adopted in other city departments such as Baltimore's CitiStat. A number of cities and states have picked it up from there. Studies have found that CitiStat saved Baltimore more than $350 million in its first seven years.

For the TechStat sessions themselves, Kundra gathers the agency CIO and CFO, the responsible OMB analyst or analysts, among others. For example, a recent cybersecurity TechStat session with the Department of Health and Human Services brought in the top cybersecurity officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.The sessions allow participants to "deconstruct" and delve into the root causes of the project's problems, Kundra said.

For example, OMB convened a recent session with the Environmental Protection Agency because the agency CIO evaluated it its Financial Systems Modernization Project as problematic, even though the IT dashboard showed the effort as on schedule and on budget.

When OMB and the EPA took a closer look, they found it to be $30 million over budget and a year behind schedule, with issues around baselining and project managers who were working in "acting" capacity rather than in permanent positions, among other problems. OMB and the EPA agreed to specific action items on what to do next.

By the end of this week, according to a memo sent from Kundra to the EPA, the EPA was slated to update the project's staffing and governance model, describe a functional gap between requirements communicated to the vendors in the bid and those that were actually put in place, and update the IT Dashboard to reflect schedule and budget concerns. That update hasn't happened yet, though to the EPA's credit, the government has been off this week.

The prime contractor on the effort is CGI, having been awarded an $83 million contract in April 2008. Other contractors include IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bart & Associates Inc., and Project Performance Corporation.

Once the sessions are over and action items agreed on, there's still more to be done. "Key to this is holding agencies accountable," Kundra said in the interview. "Did they actually delivery on these promises?" If not, the OMB has the power to go as far as to withhold appropriations from the worst offenders.

Kundra said OMB plans to "be very transparent" about both the TechStat sessions and the memos they produce, making the memos available publicly in some way.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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