Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest

High-profile federal systems projects got a bad name in the early 1990s.

So-called grand designs, which promised to streamline every clumsy old business process, began to collapse under the strain of creeping requirements and budget overruns.

Out of the rubble, Congress built new rules: the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, the 1994 Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act and the 1996 IT Management Reform Act.

Federal managers rushed to buy off-the-shelf technology and outsource their IT work. Chief information officers were appointed to bring order out of systems chaos. Soon, however, their modernization plans had to be postponed or abandoned in favor of year 2000 fixes.

Starting over

The systems landscape after Jan. 1, 2000 was still recognizable. After long and costly cycles of modernization, IRS and Federal Aviation Administration systems continued to hover at the edge of realization. Defense modernization labored under the weight of compatibility with weapons systems. And a new trend was born: Outsource everything, including headaches, to contractors whose duties sometimes include hiring the displaced agency workers.

A recent GCN issue [GCN/State & Local, Dec. 2000, Page 1] reported that only about one in four government IT projects succeeds in meeting budget, deadlines and expectations. Below are 16 ongoing federal modernization projects that fit that prediction. Green arrows indicate good probability of success. Yellow arrows show cautionary factors, and red ones mark projects in trouble or too early in their lifecycles to assess.

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