GAO: Federal IT Spending Reports Not Accurate

Office of Management and Budget can't accurately track federal IT spending, GAO says, urging OMB to improve its reporting guidance to agencies and departments.
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The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) doesn't have an accurate count of how much money federal agencies are spending on IT, and has been misrepresenting the government's technology investments, according to a federal watchdog agency.

The OMB's IT Dashboard reported in July 2011 that 26 federal agencies plan to spend nearly $79 billion on 7,248 IT investments in fiscal-year 2011, a figure the OMB often uses to refer to annual federal investments in IT, according to a September report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that was posted online this week.

However, this figure does not take into account IT spending by 58 independent executive branch agencies, including the CIA, nor are legislative and judicial branches of government factored in. Moreover, the $79 million also is not likely an accurate figure for the 26 agencies that are included in that tally, as the OMB's guidance is currently not adequate enough to facilitate comprehensive reporting of IT spending, according to the GAO.

[ The feds have big plans for IT. Read U.S. CIO VanRoekel Outlines What's Next For Fed Tech. ]

The OMB's guidance for reporting is not working on two fronts, the report found. First, it allows agencies to differ on what investments they categorize as "IT." For example, of 10 agencies reviewed, five consistently categorized research and development (R&D) investments as IT, and five did not, according to the report.

The OMB also requires agencies to map investments to a single functional category, which limits its ability to identify duplicative investments not only within one agency, but across several agencies, according to the GAO.

To be fair, the OMB and agencies has been trying to remedy the latter problem with guidance through several initiatives, such as consolidating similar IT functions to reduce duplication. A broad data center consolidation plan the feds are currently undertaking is part of that effort. However, most of the initiatives are not demonstrating results yet, according to the GAO.

The report makes four recommendations to the OMB to help ensure IT investment reporting guidance will yield more accurate results. They include advising the OMB director to be specific about which branch agencies are included in discussions of the annual federal IT investment portfolio, as well as whether certain types of systems should be categorized as IT investments.

The GAO also recommends that the OMB should better define the categories of IT investments and allow agencies to choose secondary categorizations to help better identify potentially duplicative investments, and also require that agencies report how they verified their IT investments were not duplicative.

The OMB confirmed that it was taking steps to implement all of the recommendations and would report back to the GAO when more progress has been made.