Software Capability Evaluation:

VA's Software Development Process Is Immature

AIMD-96-90: Published: Jun 19, 1996. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed software development processes and practices at the Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and Austin Automation Center (AAC).

GAO found that: (1) neither VBA nor AAC satisfy any of the criteria for a repeatable software development capability; (2) VBA and AAC do not adequately define systems requirements, train personnel, plan software development projects, estimate costs or schedules, track software project schedules or changes, manage software subcontractors, or maintain quality assurance and software configuration procedures; (3) VBA initiatives to improve its software development processes include developing and distributing interim configuration management procedures, identifying a library structure for all work products, and meeting with the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) to discuss software development; (4) VBA and AAC cannot reliably develop and maintain high-quality software on any major project within existing cost and schedule constraints; and (5) VBA and AAC can use their strengths in software quality assurance and their improvement activities in software configuration management as a foundation for improving their software development processes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Both VBA and the Austin Automation Center have developed an action plan for software process improvement efforts and have begun to implement them. Austin's plan shows it reaching level 2 by March 1999, while VBA has scheduled reaching level 2 by December 1999.

    Recommendation: To better position VBA and AAC to develop and maintain their software successfully and to protect their software investments, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should implement the action plan expeditiously.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VBA has developed a strategic plan and an action plan for its software process improvement effort, but it lacks a clear presentation of how it intends to move from an ad hoc and chaotic level to a repeatable level. It also lacks specific information on costs, risks and milestones. The Austin Automation Center has developed an action plan which provides costs and milestones for reaching the repeatable level, but this plan does not discuss risk or provide details on how it intends to move from the current level to the repeatable level.

    Recommendation: To better position VBA and AAC to develop and maintain their software successfully and to protect their software investments, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should develop an action plan, within 6 months from the date of this letter, that describes a strategy to reach the repeatable level of process maturity.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VBA has acquired the services of the Software Engineering Institute through an interagency agreement with the Air Force to assist it in improving its ability to develop high- quality software. Likewise, the Austin Automation Center has acquired the services of Abacus Technology, one of four SEI-certified CMM vendors.

    Recommendation: To better position VBA and AAC to develop and maintain their software successfully and to protect their software investments, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should obtain expert advice to assist VBA and AAC in improving their ability to develop high-quality software, consistent with criteria promulgated by SEI.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: VA/VBA claims that the payment system replacement and migration of legacy systems projects are of critical importance to address future problems. It also cites government mandates for electronic funds transfer and standard general ledger accounting as reasons why software development must continue. Therefore, it nonconcurs with this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better position VBA and AAC to develop and maintain their software successfully and to protect their software investments, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should delay any major investment in software development beyond that which is needed to sustain critical day-to-day operations until the repeatable level of process maturity is attained.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VBA and AAC have developed standard contract language requiring contractors competing for new task orders or contracts to have at least level 2 maturity and incorporated this language into its new software development contracts. VBA has also sent letters to its contractors requesting information on their software capability level and plans to improve. However, they have not incorporated evaluations of contractors CMM levels into their source selection process.

    Recommendation: To better position VBA and AAC to develop and maintain their software successfully and to protect their software investments, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that any future contracts for software development require that the contractor have a software development capability of at least Capability Maturity Model level 2.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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