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General government

The Office of Management and Budget's IT Dashboard reportedly has already resulted in $3 billion in savings and can further help identify opportunities to invest more efficiently in information technology

Why Area Is Important

 

Each year the federal government spends billions of dollars on information technology (IT) investments; federal spending on IT has risen to an estimated $79 billion for fiscal year 2011. Over the past several years, GAO has reported and testified on the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) initiatives to highlight troubled IT projects, justify investments, and use project management tools. Given the importance of transparency, oversight, and management of the government's IT investments, in June 2009 OMB established a public Web site, referred to as the IT Dashboard, that provides detailed information on about 800 investments at 27 federal agencies, including ratings of their performance against cost and schedule targets. The public dissemination of this information is intended to allow OMB; other oversight bodies, including Congress; and the general public to hold agencies accountable for results and performance.

What GAO Found

 

In July 2010, GAO reported that OMB's Dashboard had increased transparency and oversight, but that improvements were needed for the Dashboard to more fully realize its potential as a management and cost-savings tool. Specifically, the cost and schedule ratings on the Dashboard were not always accurate for the investments that GAO reviewed. GAO found that four of the eight selected investments had notable discrepancies in either cost or schedule ratings. For example, the Dashboard indicated that one investment had a less-than-5-percent cost variance for every month from July 2009 through January 2010. However, GAO's analysis showed that this investment had a cost performance variance from 10 percent to less than 15 percent in December 2009 through January 2010. In another case, an investment on the Dashboard reported that it has been less than 30 days behind schedule since July 2009. Investment data that GAO examined, however, showed that the investment was behind schedule by 30 days to almost 90 days from September to December 2009.

A primary reason for the data inaccuracies was that while the Dashboard was intended to represent near real-time performance information, the cost and schedule ratings did not take into consideration current performance. As a result, the ratings were based on outdated information. For example, cost ratings for each of the investments were based on data from 2 months to almost 2 years old. Another issue with the ratings stemmed from the wide variation in the number of milestones agencies reported, which was partly because OMB's guidance was too general. Having too many milestones can mask performance problems because the performance of each milestone (dated and recent) was equally averaged into the ratings. This means that investments that performed well during previously completed milestones can maintain ratings that reflect good performance, even if they begin to perform poorly. Conversely, having too few milestones limits the amount of information available to rate performance, allowing agencies to potentially distort their ratings.

GAO also assessed whether the data on the Dashboard were being used as a tool to improve the management of IT investments. Officials at three of the five agencies in GAO's review stated they were not using the Dashboard to manage their investments because they already had existing means to do so; officials at the other two agencies indicated they were using the Dashboard to supplement their existing management processes. The Federal Chief Information Officer stated that the Dashboard greatly improved oversight capabilities compared to previously used mechanisms and that it has increased the accountability of agencies' chief information officers and established much-needed visibility. OMB officials indicated they had relied on the Dashboard as a management tool, including using investment trend data to identify and address performance issues and to select investments for a TechStat session—a review of selected IT investments between OMB and agency leadership that is led by the Federal Chief Information Officer. According to OMB, as of December 2010, 58 TechStat sessions have been held with federal agencies. Additionally, OMB officials stated that, as a result of these sessions, 11 investments have been reduced in scope and 4 have been cancelled. For example, TechStats on

  • the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Transformation Initiative investment resulted in the reduction of projects from 29 to 7 and the limit of fiscal year 2010 funds for these 7 priority projects to $85.7 million (from $138 million); and
  • the National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archives investment resulted in six corrective action steps, including halting fiscal year 2012 development funding pending the completion of a strategic plan.

To better ensure that the Dashboard provides meaningful ratings and accurate investment data, GAO recommended that OMB report on the effect of planned changes to the Dashboard to improve the accuracy of ratings and to provide guidance to agencies to standardize milestone reporting. OMB agreed with these recommendations and initiated work to update the Dashboard to factor the performance of ongoing milestones into cost and schedule ratings.

Finally, GAO has work under way to evaluate the data provided by the Dashboard in order to determine the extent to which agencies may be investing in projects in the same line of business. GAO is also reviewing OMB's current approach to identifying and acting on such duplicative investments.

Actions Needed

 

According to the Federal Chief Information Officer, use of the Dashboard as a management and oversight tool has already resulted in a $3 billion budget reduction. OMB's planned improvements to the Dashboard, along with full implementation of GAO's recommendations (as discussed above) and the possible identification of duplicative investments, have the potential to result in further significant savings. Additional opportunities for potential cost savings exist with the use of the Dashboard by executive branch agencies to identify and make decisions about poorly performing investments, as well as its continued use by congressional committees to support critical oversight efforts.

Framework for Analysis

 

The information above is based on ongoing work on the Dashboard and related GAO products listed under the "Related GAO Products" tab.

Area Contact

 

For additional information about this area, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or pownerd@gao.gov.

Related GAO Products