BLM bans new IT efforts

BLM bans new IT efforts

BLM's Hord Tipton says change will take time.

$67 million setback prompts CIO to order systems shop overhaul

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

The Bureau of Land Management has placed a moratorium on major information technology projects while it studies lessons it has learned from a multimillion-dollar software development failure.

Before the agency commits any more money to IT, it will finish restructuring its IT Investment Board, establish a new systems program management office to screen and support future technology projects, and review the systems management of its field offices, said Hord Tipton, the bureau's chief information officer.

The winds of change are also blowing the bureau toward a new era of IT management, Tipton said. 'We are restructuring how we do IT,' he said. 'Nothing will be recognizable as of July 1.'

The BLM reorganization follows a critical report from the General Accounting Office, Land Management Systems: Status of BLM's Actions to Improve Information Technology Management, that concluded the agency spent $67 million on unusable software.

Administrators at BLM and the Interior Department agreed with the February report, according to written statements they submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies.

BLM's problems began nearly a decade ago. In 1991, Interior awarded an 11-year, $403 million contract to Computer Sciences Corp. to develop a records management system to replace legacy systems BLM uses to manage land and mineral resources, and to modernize business processes [GCN, May 24, 1999, Page 16]. The contract included the $67 million to develop the Automated Land and Mineral Record System to reduce the bureau's dependence on paper.

'We had difficulty with the time it took to get our arms around it,' Tipton said of ALMRS. 'It grew out of bounds.'

The system flopped, he said. Tipton called the program slow, expensive and infested with workaround problems. ALMRS required more work than the system it was designed to replace and took longer to process requests than it took workers using paper processes, he said.

Previously, Interior officials exonerated CSC of blame, saying poor management was the chief culprit.

GAO pegged the total cost of ALMRS work at $411 million, but part of the money went to successful projects, such as the agency's intranet, Tipton said.

ALMRS' failure also affected the bureau's year 2000 readiness. BLM officials had banked on the modernization to help it replace unready systems [GCN, Oct. 25, 1999, Page 9]. Instead, the bureau had to fall back on its legacy applications running on antiquated mainframes: a Groupe Bull DPS 8000 and a Burroughs Corp. 7800. The agency scrambled to patch its software to avoid date code failures.

Tipton said his job since he became bureau CIO in November has been to find ways to prevent future projects from becoming too large to manage.

In a written response to the GAO report, Sylvia V. Baca, acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, tagged Tipton as the point man for reforming BLM's IT management. GAO called the agency's planning and management methods immature when reviewed against the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model.

Based on Carnegie Mellon University's SEI model, the bureau came in at Level 1, the lowest rating. BLM lacked a stable environment for developing and maintaining software, overcommitted staff to projects and abandoned procedures when executing projects, GAO said. A Level 2 rating would require acquisition planning, project management, evaluation, and contract tracking and oversight.

'Over the next 12 to 18 months, we plan to move from Level 1 to Level 2,' Tipton said, adding, 'We've been told that the goal is quite ambitious.'

First, the agency is considering the best way to accomplish what the failed software could not'integrating information and services. Tipton is awaiting a report from the bureau's Architecture Team to help him chart BLM's next steps. 'It's going to give us a snapshot of the business process,' he said. 'It's going to tell us how it needs to fit together, how to apply and use the data.'

Another major component in the IT shake-up will be the IT Investment Board, which has been restructured and given a clearer role in the selection, control and evaluation of technology projects, Tipton said.

Then and now

Before the revamp, the board learned of investments one project at a time, and no one ever had to explain how a project would interconnect with other agency programs, he said. Now, reviews by the board, which meets for the first time this month, are tied to completion and delivery of IT components.

Under the new process, Tipton said, it will be easier to follow a project's cost and take action before it gobbles up more money than it should. 'Before, no one was required to make sure that the program met its goals,' he said. 'There was no easy way to tell how much money it was consuming.'

Tipton said his agency is going to have to learn to be disciplined in embracing the new IT philosophy. 'We were not totally negligent in prior years, but we were really lax in adhering to guidance rules,' he said. 'We had decent procedures but we were not very religious about sticking to them.'

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