Administration 'prematurely declaring victory' on IT reforms, GAO says

The IT reform plan put forth by the Office of Management and Budget in 2010 has claimed billions of dollars in savings through consolidation of data centers and elimination of redundant or inefficient programs. But on the eve of the 18-month deadline for the 25-point plan, the plan is still short of its goals, a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee was told.

“Solid progress has been made in IT reform,” the Government Accountability Office’s David Powner told the Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee on May 24. But OMB is “prematurely declaring victory,” he warned. “Our review shows less progress than OMB reports.”

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel defended progress made in IT spending reform, saying there is “less disagreement than agreement” between OMB and GAO.


OMB's 25-point plan changing the way agencies manage IT 

He said that OMB sees the reform program as only a starting point rather than an end in itself.

“At the end of the day, that strategy was about shocking the system,” he said. “Federal IT reform does not begin or end with the 25-point plan.”

The plan, which was issued in December 2010, is an attempt to gain better control over the $80 billion being spent each year on federal information technology. Too much of that is being spent on programs that are duplicated in multiple agencies, on supporting inefficient and outdated legacy systems, and on poorly managed programs that have not produced the promised results.

Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Carper (D-Del.) said, “the federal government has continually thrown good money after bad” in these projects and is not getting a reasonable return for its investments.

GAO examined progress on 10 key action items of the reform plan that were due to be completed by the end of 2011. OMB in December reported that seven of the items had been completed and that three were partially completed. GAO, however, concluded that only three items were completed.

OMB said the reason for the difference is that administration officials believe the reform plan has served its purpose in acting as a catalyst and noted that efforts to improve performance will continue on all of the initiatives in the plan even after the stated goals have been achieved.

“We disagree with this approach,” Powner said. “In prematurely declaring the action items to be completed, OMB risks losing momentum on the progress it has made to date.”

The items that both OMB and GAO agree have been completed to date are:

  • Introduce contract vehicles for secure infrastructure-as-a-service solutions.
  • Design a cadre of specialized IT acquisition professionals.
  • Reform and strengthen Investment Review Boards.

One area of the reform plan that has produced tangible results is data center consolidation, which has saved an estimated $3.9 billion in cost avoidance by closing down 267 of about 2,000 data centers. VanRoekel said a total of 429 data centers are expected to be closed by the end of this year, but there is still a long way to go to reach the goal of closing 1,000 by the end of 2015.

The CIO also cited the Cloud First program, which he said has eliminated more than 50 legacy systems by moving their services to cloud platforms.

OMB also launched PortfolioStat in March, a program to review agency IT portfolios for opportunities to consolidate or eliminate efforts. It is based on the TechStat program, in which OMB reviewed individual IT programs to eliminate underperforming projects. More than 300 TechStat reviews have resulted in $4 billion in savings through elimination of inefficiencies, VanRoekel said.

“PortfolioStat initiative takes a broader approach by looking across entire agency portfolios for consolidation and optimization opportunities,” he said. It “will be the primary tool through which agencies will assess the maturity of their IT portfolio management process, identify and eliminate duplication, cut lower-priority investments, and move to shared solutions in order to maximize the return on IT investments.”

Powner said OMB and the agencies need to establish better targets for achieving goals and clearly define what cost savings are expected to be achieved, and specifically how they will be achieved.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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