Farmers Home Administration's ADP Development Project--Current Status and Unresolved Problems

CED-80-67: Published: Feb 19, 1980. Publicly Released: Feb 19, 1980.

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The Farmers Home Administration's (FmHA) computer-based systems project, the Unified Management Information System (UMIS), was reviewed. In 1974, FmHA began developing UMIS to provide better management information at all levels within the agency in an effort to improve service to rural Americans seeking financial assistance.

FmHA has not properly designed, documented, or managed the project. As a result: (1) the projected implementation date of the system will be at least 5 years later than planned; (2) the estimated total cost to develop UMIS as designed may reach $42 million; (3) total development costs for any alternative to UMIS may range from $27.5 million to $42 million; (4) the operational costs of UMIS as designed will be exorbitant; and (5) the system may not meet the basic needs for which it is being developed. GAO has determined that UMIS is not viable as currently designed and managed. Furthermore, since FmHA has not adequately studied and defined its information needs, there is no assurance that if UMIS or an alternative becomes operational it will provide needed information or be cost-effective. This lack of information requirements has also made it difficult to identify all possible alternatives. Most UMIS delays, cost increases, and capability shortfalls resulted because FmHA did not: (1) assign a project manager who would be dedicated to the project on a full-time basis; (2) prepare a comprehensive system development plan identifying milestones and critical decision points; and (3) use standard automatic data processing (ADP) project control measures such as cost accounting and budget preparation procedures. Because any alternative selected to replace UMIS will be a major software development project similar in scope to UMIS, FmHA must address the project management issues of effectively planning, managing, and controlling a complex ADP development project.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct FmHA to: redefine information requirements to meet agency needs and express them in terms which are more specific and quantifiable to establish performance criteria for evaluating UMIS alternatives; obtain from the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture approval of the FmHA information requirements study prior to continuing or beginning any new development effort; submit the study to appropriate congressional oversight committees; reevaluate UMIS if new information is uncovered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Task Force; identify all alternatives to UMIS based on a complete functional requirements study and prepare a documented analysis of alternatives and a cost benefit study; develop the most cost effective alternative to meeting FmHA needs based on the above studies and the technical Task Force report; develop and implement standard project control techniques such as, establishing documentation standards, holding documentation reviews, establishing firm software test procedures, and improving System Change Request controls; intensify its efforts in installing PAC II which is necessary to monitor progress of a development project, to identify and analyze schedule and cost variances, and to better plan the use of resources; install a cost accounting system, and part of a project control mechanism, to account for all costs incurred during the system design, development, and operational life cycle with total life cycle cost estimates being updated on a regular basis; assign a full-time project manager to the project development team; strengthen its ADP steering committee, increase top management involvement in the project, and provide for management continuity; and establish a budget for major software development projects to cover the development and operation phases, and note such projects as a separate line item in the FmHA budget justification.

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