Information Management:

Department of Agriculture Needs Leadership in Managing Its Information Resources

CED-81-116: Published: Jun 19, 1981. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 1981.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effectiveness of the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) computer and information system resources. It also evaluated the USDA automatic data processing (ADP) organization and structure, management functions, and security activities.

Although many problems have been identified in the USDA management and use of information resources, little has been done to solve these problems. The current ADP office acts more as a coordinator and advisory office than as the manager of critical information resources. It does not have the required authority to ensure effective and efficient management and use of information resources. Nor does it have authority over agency in-house development efforts. In enacting the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, Congress mandated that each agency appoint a single senior official with the authority and responsibility for ensuring effective and efficient information resources management. If effectively implemented, the Act should materially improve the USDA information resources management. Development, conversion, and maintenance of applications software is ineffective because generally accepted management practices are not followed. Frequently, agencies do not prepare requirements analyses, cost/benefit studies, or comprehensive plans. Nor are full-time project managers with authority, responsibility, and accountability always assigned to software projects. Users of four USDA computer centers are dissatisfied with availability, accessibility, and response times. Too little emphasis has been placed on ADP security. Lack of a comprehensive planning process has resulted in inefficient and ineffective use of information resources that has contributed to huge cost overruns for six large software projects.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should establish a separate, central information resources management office headed by the senior official.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) should designate the USDA senior official an assistant secretary or equivalent level.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should issue a memorandum to agency heads describing the responsibilities and authority of the senior official with specific attention to the senior official's authority over agencies' information resources management activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should include as part of the information resources management (IRM) office such IRM-related subcomponents as deemed necessary for the senior official to carry out his responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) should establish a top-level USDA steering committee or similar group of agency representatives to provide the senior official with advice and recommendations on policy and other significant information resources management matters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) should issue a memorandum to agency heads stressing the need for involving top management in information resources management and in the activities of the USDA steering committee.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should establish, under the direction of the senior official, a management assistance center for computer software and systems development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the senior official to establish formal procedures and policies for software maintenance activities and for life-cycle automatic data processing cost accounting.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) should direct USDA agencies and offices to establish central information management units subject to the senior official's review and approval.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the senior official appointed under the Paperwork Reduction Act to establish a computer performance management program, including objectives for user service levels; uniform reporting on performance, capacity, and utilization; and standard operating procedures related to efficient use of computer center resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  11. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the senior official appointed under the Paperwork Reduction Act to develop, implement, and enforce procedures for workload forecasts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  12. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the the senior official appointed under the Paperwork Reduction Act to require user organizations to provide computer centers with timely and complete workload forecasts for use in the Computer performance management program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  13. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) should direct the senior official designated under the Paperwork Reduction Act to vest USDA security officers with sufficient authority to enforce security regulations over information resources and automatic data processing facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  14. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) should direct the senior official designated under the Paperwork Reduction Act to develop USDA-wide guidelines for a comprehensive information resources management planning process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  15. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the senior official designated under the Paperwork Reduction Act to direct the agencies to adapt their planning processes to guidelines developed by the senior official.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  16. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the senior official appointed under the Paperwork Reduction Act to conduct a postimplementation review to determine whether the National Finance Center (NFC) should continue managing its computer center. If the review shows NFC should not, responsibility for managing the computer center should be returned to a central office.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  17. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) should direct the senior official designated under the Paperwork Reduction Act to include, as part of the periodic reviews of information management activities required by the Act, evaluations of agencies' compliance with USDA security regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  18. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) should direct the senior official in carrying out his information activities to develop and implement a USDA-wide information resources management program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  19. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should provide the senior official with clear authority over agency software projects. This authority would require agencies to submit to the senior official the following documents and data for software projects meeting established dollar thresholds: (1) feasibility studies, cost/benefit analyses, and user requirements analyses; (2) comprehensive project plans that include milestones and dates and identify project managers; (3) procedures that will be used to monitor the project's progress and track its costs; and (4) progress reports showing percent of completion and costs to date, and estimated time and cost to complete the project.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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