Veterans Benefits Modernization:

VBA Has Begun to Address Software Development Weaknesses But Work Remains

AIMD-97-154: Published: Sep 15, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO conducted a follow-up review to determine the actions taken by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to address management and technical weaknesses identified in the June 19, 1996, hearing on the agency's modernization effort, focusing on the agency's actions to improve its software development capability.

GAO noted that: (1) VBA has taken action to improve its software development capability; (2) among other things, it has launched a software process improvement initiative, chartered a software engineering process group, and obtained the services of an experienced contractor to assist in developing and implementing a software process improvement effort; (3) although it has made progress, VBA has not yet fully addressed needed software development improvements; (4) these include a need for: (a) a defined strategy to reach the repeatable level and a baseline to measure improvements; (b) a process improvement training program for its software developers; and (c) a process to ensure that VBA's software development contractors are at the repeatable level; (5) VBA generally agrees that these issues need to be addressed and has efforts under way to do so; and (6) until these deficiencies are sufficiently addressed, VBA's software development capability remains ad hoc and chaotic, subjecting the agency to continuing risk of cost overruns, poor quality software, and schedule delays in software development.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VBA agreed with the recommendation and developed an action plan in 1997 for reaching the repeatable level. However, since then, due to budget issues and changes in IT priorities, progress has been slower than anticipated. VBA continues to work on addressing software development deficiencies in the six level 2 key process areas. For example, it is developing new policies and procedures for three of the six areas--software engineering, configuration management, and requirements management. However, VBA has not established a date for when it might reach the repeatable level.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits, in conjunction with VBA's chief information officer, to define the milestones, costs, tasks, and risks of the software process improvement initiative in order to provide a clear strategy for how VBA plans to improve its software development capability to a repeatable level.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VBA agreed with the recommendation and initiated a project to develop a baseline showing its software development capability. This effort utilized GAO's report on VBA's software development capability, VBA's Software Practices Roundup review, and contractor reports. The baseline report was subsequently completed in 1999.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits, in conjunction with VBA's chief information officer, to develop and use a baseline showing VBA's current software development capability from which to measure VBA's software improvement effort.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VBA agreed with the recommendation and has developed training material for the key process areas necessary to reach the repeatable level. Courses in Contract Management and Project Management are available, courses in Configuration Management are under development, and others are planned.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits, in conjunction with VBA's chief information officer, to ensure that a training plan is developed and implemented that will provide key software development staff training in the software process improvement methodology, its principles, and key process areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VBA agreed with the recommendation and has developed standard language for all of its statements of work requiring all contractors to document their CMM level 2 status. VBA recently strengthened its CMM level statement to require contractors to already be at a CMM level 2 and to be certified by an outside source as CMM level 2. In addition, a source selection process is now in place which includes the CMM level 2 requirements as part of the evaluation criteria used by VBA proposal evaluation teams to rank contractor proposals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits, in conjunction with VBA's chief information officer, to establish a source selection process to ensure that VBA's software development contractors have the mature processes necessary for timely, high-quality software development, including evaluating and validating documentation provided by potential contractors establishing that they are at the repeatable level or higher.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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