Is Federal Oversight Spending Paying Off?

Published: February 05, 2014

Acquisition ReformDigital GovernmentDHSInformation TechnologyIT ReformShared ServicesStrategic Sourcing

In recent years, federal organizations have implemented a number of efforts to keep program progress on track and spending in check. Continued emphasis on this kind of oversight emerged as a theme across technology spending in the FY 2014 Omnibus.

Starting in March 2012, agencies began conducting top level review of investments agency technology investments, streamline spending, and promote shared services. These PortfolioStat reviews built on efforts from previous years, like reporting to the IT Dashboard and TechStat assessments. In June 2009, the federal government started reporting information technology spending. This data was made publicly accessible through the IT Dashboard, which has undergone several updates since its launch. At the start of 2010, agencies began holding accountability sessions offering program level reviews through the TechStat process. In each of these initiatives supported the goal of shedding light on government spending to increase efficiency.

Other similar efforts to promote efficiency include strategic mandates and operational technologies, such as data center consolidation and CyberStat. The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) established goals for reducing the number of data centers and evaluating agency resources. Challenges that have plagued the consolidation effort have ranged from revised definitions of data centers to a lack of methodology for determining associated costs. While agencies have documented numerous data center closures, the goals of cost-savings and improved efficiency have been moving targets. Progress towards a stronger cyber security posture through CyberStat sessions has undergone a slight change of tack. The security monitoring requirements that were part of CyberStat are being rolled into the Department of Homeland Security’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program. It’s unclear, however, whether this program will fully address the government’s continuous monitoring needs.

Without touching on reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or inspectors general investigations, it’s clear that a strategic emphasis has been placed on efforts to pursue consolidation targets, to reduce duplicative efforts, to decrease costs, to increase operational efficiency, and to improve governance. At the same time, these projects have been fraught with setbacks around establishing benchmarks and milestones, determining metrics for progress, as well as securing authority and resources to implement strategies within organizations. In short, once they’re underway, it’s really tough to clearly assert whether many of these efficiency initiatives can be called “successful.” In calling them “valuable,” the label raises questions about strategic focus and spending to save, a notion which is typically considered at odds with the federal budget process. In line with the drive for improved return on investment, it makes sense to ask whether these oversight programs and efficiency initiatives are breaking even. Basically, are these efforts to add value actually adding value? And also, how would you know?