GAO Recommends Further Implementation of Best Practices to Improve Federal IT

Published: May 14, 2014

Acquisition ReformData CenterOMBPolicy and Legislation

Last week, David A. Powner, Director Information Technology Management Issues at GAO, testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs regarding critical factors necessary for successful IT projects and acquisitions.

Powner used information from previous GAO reports and studies to offer insight into best practices and reform initiatives that can help improve IT investment management.  Expanded use of critical success factors in IT acquisition, such as active stakeholder engagement and support from agency executives, along with further implementation of government and industry best practices, will better position agencies to more effectively deliver mission-critical systems, according to GAO.

One key reform initiative has been the IT Dashboard, launched by OMB.  The dashboard provides information on 760 major IT investments at 27 federal agencies.  As of April 2014, 74% of the investments were low or moderately low risk, 21% were medium risk, and 6% were moderately high or high risk.  GAO issued a report in 2011 which voiced concerns about accuracy and reliability of dashboard data, but also pointed out that data was improving over time.  Recently, GAO reported that agencies had removed major investments from the dashboard which raises concerns about transparency.  Additionally, GAO noted that the timeliness of updates to the dashboard were lacking.  As of December 2013, the public version of the dashboard was not updated 15 of the previous 24 months.

Powner also cited OMB recommendations for increased incremental development, but GAO’s recent findings indicate that almost 75% of investments reviewed did not plan to deliver capabilities every six months and less than half planned to deliver capabilities in 12 month cycles.

Additionally, Powner refer to data center consolidation efforts, and the continued need for oversight and tracking.  He also praised PortfolioStat efforts, but recommended more consistent implementation across agencies.

With over $80 billion in federal IT spending per year, it’s incumbent upon agencies and the administration to learn from successful IT implementations, as well as failed projects.  While use of best practices, legislation, and OMB efforts at transparency and oversight have improved IT execution and spending, continued leadership and attention is necessary to build on current progress.