COMMENTARY

The value of the IT Dashboard, warts and all

GAO challenges the accuracy of the IT Dashboard

Given the more than 800 major information technology projects under way at 28 federal agencies — projects often costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars — it might seem that the Government Accountability Office has better things to do than to pick on the Office of Management and Budget’s IT Dashboard.

Then again, given the sudden glare of exposure the IT Dashboard has created at many agencies, by highlighting how their IT investments are performing and who’s responsible, it was only a matter of time before GAO was asked to take a closer look at OMB’s year-old graphical online reporting tool.

Some would say that’s proof that the IT Dashboard is making a difference. But on at least one count, a GAO report's findings also echo the sentiments of more than a few agency officials who argue that the dashboard has its deficiencies.

In general, GAO praised the IT Dashboard for increasing transparency and oversight. But the report, released last month, also took aim at a number of faults in the data represented on the dashboard.

GAO’s biggest complaint, based on an examination of eight major projects at five agencies, was that cost and schedule performance ratings were not always accurate or up-to-date. The report states that it had been months — and in one case, two years — since the latest investment milestones had been updated. As a result, based on their actual variances in planning, certain investments rated green on the dashboard should have been rated yellow, which would trigger greater attention, the report states.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, who launched the IT Dashboard, said part of the problem stems from the vast differences among projects and how different agencies populate the dashboard. Some agencies report many small milestones; others provide only a few major milestones. Kundra said agencies and the dashboard would benefit from clearer guidance. But he rejected the notion that the discrepancies were significant.

However, what remains harder to see is whether the IT Dashboard is living up to its vision as a management tool for agencies. Talk to many agency CIOs, including those GAO spoke with, and it's evident that the IT Dashboard still lacks the capabilities that more robust applications can offer in managing the vast array of dynamically linked elements that are inherent in large-scale IT projects.

But so be it. The IT Dashboard does something those applications can’t by providing an increasingly comprehensive picture of where federal IT dollars are going — and, in some cases, going to waste.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

Reader Comments

Tue, Aug 3, 2010

maybe it should be a requirement for a CIO to have some kind of financial management background and not solely a stratosphere perspective (pointy-haired-boss) on IT. In other words, they should be focused more on being able to analyze metrics by themselves, e.g. EVMS, instead of being told how to think. If they had a combination of strong analytical skills coupled with some leadership the organization would be better served.

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