Federal Agencies' Maintenance of Computer Programs:

Expensive and Undermanaged

AFMD-81-25: Published: Feb 26, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 1981.

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Computer software maintenance consumes a large share of the federal government's automatic data processing (ADP) resources. A review was performed of computer software maintenance operations at 15 federal computer sites.

Agencies have a limited overview of their software maintenance operations and have made little concentrated effort to effectively manage and minimize the resources required to maintain their computer software. ADP processing managers have done little to identify common causes of maintenance problems or reduce maintenance costs. The absence of maintenance management is due to the lack of a uniform definition of maintenance and the absence of government-wide guidance on how to control software maintenance and reduce its costs. Modifications account for about half of the total maintenance work load. While some modifications are necessary to adapt software to changing user needs, others occur because user needs are not properly identified in the first production version of the software. Agencies need to develop and implement policies and procedures which will increase maintenance efficiency and ultimately reduce the amount and cost of software maintenance required.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The heads of federal agencies should begin to manage software maintenance as a discrete function; that is, to consider maintenance as a high-cost area needing comprehensive management policies that deal specifically with its issues. To accomplish this, data gathering mechanisms must be put into place to provide management with information on the maintenance work load.

    Agency Affected: Heads of Federal Agencies

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce, through the National Bureau of Standards, should develop and publish guidance specifically and explicitly directed at techniques for reducing federal software maintenance costs. Pending such publication, GAO feels that its provisional checklist will be useful to installation managers who want to reduce their maintenance costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Bureau of Standards

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce, through the National Bureau of Standards, should develop and publish a standard definition of applications software maintenance for government-wide use. The publication should list and define maintenance components suitable for use in recording costs, from which individual installations can use the parts that are relevant to them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Bureau of Standards

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The heads of federal agencies should identify and assign costs to resources expended for software maintenance. Accounting and reporting of costs by area of management responsibility are fundamental steps in making individuals conscious of and responsible for the costs incurred within their area of control.

    Agency Affected: Heads of Federal Agencies

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The heads of federal agencies should implement policies and procedures to increase the efficiency of the software maintenance operation and reduce the amount of software maintenance needed in the future.

    Agency Affected: Heads of Federal Agencies

  6. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The heads of federal agencies should develop maintenance standards and goals as a means of evaluating maintenance efficiency and for use as a management tool. After carefully analyzing the current maintenance work load, management should set goals reflecting the resource usage considered reasonable to maintain the current inventory of software. Levels of resources above these standards would be subject to management attention and subsequent action. Maintenance goals should reflect a lower level of resources expected to be attained by the use of techniques to reduce the need for future maintenance.

    Agency Affected: Heads of Federal Agencies

 

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