“…federal IT investments too frequently fail to be completed or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes.”

–GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, February 11, 2015

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

–P.T. Barnum

The Government Accountability Office two weeks ago added IT to its biennial list of high-risk issues. But it’s not all because of big, failed projects. Legacy systems are among the biggest culprits.

“Specifically, in fiscal year 2015, of the overall $79 billion budgeted for federal IT, 27 federal agencies plan to spend about $58 billion, or almost three-quarters of the total budgeted, on the O&M of these legacy investments.”

The report is a trove of information – 404 pages of complaints. To focus on the IT section, look here.

The moral of the story: Modernize or pay the consequences.

Holy &#!]
Then there are the Big Failed Efforts – projects that cost billions and delivered zilch. The GAO pointed to these as particular examples of wastefulness (all curtailed in 2012 or earlier):

  • The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Expeditionary Combat Support System, which was canceled in December 2012, after spending more than a billion dollars and failing to deploy within f years of initially obligating funds;
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative Network program, which was ended in January 2011, after obligating more than $1 billion to the program, because it did not meet cost-effectiveness and viability standards;
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise program, which was intended to be delivered by 2014 at a total estimated cost of $609 million, but was terminated in October 2011 due to challenges in managing the program;
  • The Office of Personnel Management’s Retirement Systems Modernization program, which was canceled in February 2011, after spending approximately $231 million on the agency’s third attempt to automate the processing of federal employee retirement claims;
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Defense, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, which was a tri-agency weather satellite program that was terminated in February 2010 after having spent 16 years and almost $5 billion on the program, when a presidential task force decided to disband the system; and
  • The VA Scheduling Replacement Project, which was terminated in September 2009 after spending an estimated $127 million over 9 years.

1 in 4 Programs Troubled
The good news is those programs were all shut down two or more years ago. The bad news is that GAO is convinced the problems that led to those disasters have yet to be solved.

But those examples represent a fraction of the problem that GAO found.

Using the IT Dashboard as its guide, GAO found fault with a whopping 24 percent of the major Federal IT projects: “As of August 2014, according to the IT Dashboard, 183 of the federal government’s 759 major IT investments – totaling $12.3 billion – were in need of management attention.”

Silver Lining
It’s not all doom and gloom. GAO reports substantial savings now and in the near future from efforts to consolidate data centers.

“…between fiscal years 2011 and 2017, agencies reported planning a total of about $5.3 billion in cost savings and avoidances due to the consolidation of federal data centers.”

FITARA to the Rescue?
So how do agencies fix the problems surrounding Federal IT? GAO said implementing the requirements outlined in FITARA – the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act – would be a good place to start. FITARA should improve the transparency and management of IT acquisitions and operations across the government by strengthening CIOs’ authority to provide needed direction and oversight.

But GAO also noted that agencies are lagging in implementing other recommended reforms. “Over the past 5 years, we have reported numerous times on shortcomings with IT acquisitions and operations, and have made about 737 related recommendations, 361 of which were to OMB and agencies to improve the implementation of the recent initiatives and other government-wide, cross-cutting efforts. As of January 2015, about 23 percent of the 737 recommendations had been fully implemented.”

In other words, “if you’d listened to what we told you, you wouldn’t be in this bind.”
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MeriTalk Staff