GAO Says OMB and the Federal CIO Should Provide More Oversight of High-Priority IT Programs

Published: November 30, 2017

Information TechnologyOMB

In a recent report, GAO accuses OMB of not providing consistent and adequate oversight of high-priority agency IT programs.

OMB is charged with overseeing federal agencies’ management of information and information technology, primarily through its Office of E-Government and Information Technology (E-Gov) headed by the Federal CIO. Currently, this oversight responsibility covers about 800 major and nearly 5,700 non-major IT investments across the federal government. As a part of the oversight, the E-Gov office establishes processes to analyze, track, and evaluate the risks and results of IT investments made by executive agencies.

OMB has implemented a series of initiatives to improve the oversight of underperforming investments and more effectively manage IT including:

  • Federal IT Dashboard – Launched in June 2009 to further improve the transparency into and oversight of federal agencies’ IT investments.
  • TechStat reviews – Launched in January 2010, the Federal CIO began leading these face-to-face meetings to discuss whether to terminate or turn around IT investments that are in danger of failing or are not producing results.
  • PortfolioStat sessions – Launched in 2012 to better manage existing IT systems by requiring agencies to conduct an annual, agency-wide portfolio review.

GAO’s recent study found that in 2015 and 2016 OMB’s Office of E-Gov identified and reported to Congress on the federal government’s top 10 high-priority programs, but stopped the reporting after June 2016. E-Gov staff stated that 2016 direction from Congress transferred the reporting responsibility to the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) component of OMB.

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, required that OMB identify the 10 highest priority IT investment programs under development across federal agencies and report on their status each quarter. An explanatory statement for the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, stated that USDS was to provide a quarterly status report on its current projects, including the top 10 high priority programs.

FCW reached out to former Federal CIO Tony Scott about this subject and he admitted that the current situation is confusing and that clarity is needed with regards to whether USDS or OMB is responsible for the top ten IT priorities reports. 

GAO also found that the Federal CIO was not directly involved in oversight of the 10 high-priority IT programs.  But according to GAO, Federal CIO involvement can have a significant impact, such as in TechStat reviews which resulted in $3 billion in savings in 2010.

In an e-mail response to FCW, former Federal CIO Tony Scott stated that he disagreed with GAO's report "in several respects" and said GAO auditors did not reach out to contact him during their investigation.

"I think it is an incorrect conclusion to say that the federal CIO role was de-emphasized in terms of oversight. What we did was focus more heavily on projects that were in trouble, and make those high priority for review at the Federal CIO level," Scott said.

GAO is making the following recommendations to OMB:

  • OMB should continue to identify and report to Congress on the status of the top 10 high-priority IT programs and the extent to which USDS is involved in the programs, as was done in June 2015 and June 2016. These reports should be issued quarterly.
  • OMB should ensure that the Federal CIO is directly involved in the oversight of high priority programs.
  • OMB should continue to report on the status of USDS projects. These reports should also be issued quarterly.

OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations but disagreed with several of GAO’s conclusions.