Information Technology:

OMB Can Make More Effective Use of Its Investment Reviews

GAO-05-276: Published: Apr 15, 2005. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 2005.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

David A. Powner
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

For the President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2005, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stated that of the nearly 1,200 major information technology (IT) projects in the budget, it had placed approximately half--621 projects, representing about $22 billion--on a Management Watch List, composed of mission-critical projects with identified weaknesses. GAO was asked to describe and assess OMB's processes for (1) placing projects on its Management Watch List and (2) following up on corrective actions established for projects on the list.

For the fiscal year 2005 budget, OMB developed processes and criteria for including IT investments on its Management Watch List. In doing so, it identified opportunities to strengthen investments and promote improvements in IT management. However, it did not develop a single, aggregate list identifying the projects and their weaknesses. Instead, OMB officials told GAO that to identify IT projects with weaknesses, individual OMB analysts used scoring criteria that the office established for evaluating the justifications for funding that federal agencies submit for major projects. These analysts, each of whom is typically responsible for several federal agencies, were then responsible for maintaining information on these projects. To derive the total number of projects on the list that OMB reported for fiscal year 2005, OMB polled its individual analysts and compiled the result. However, OMB officials told GAO that they did not compile a list that identified the specific projects and their identified weaknesses. The officials added that they did not construct a single list because they did not see such an activity as necessary. Thus, OMB has not fully exploited the opportunity to use the list as a tool for analyzing IT investments on a governmentwide basis. OMB had not developed a structured, consistent process for deciding how to follow up on corrective actions that its individual analysts asked agencies to take to address weaknesses associated with projects on its Management Watch List. According to OMB officials, decisions on follow-up and monitoring of progress were typically made by the staff with responsibility for reviewing individual agency budget submissions, depending on the staff's insights into agency operations and objectives. Because it did not consistently require or monitor follow-up activities, OMB did not know whether the project risks that it identified through its Management Watch List were being managed effectively, potentially leaving resources at risk of being committed to poorly planned and managed projects. In addition, because it did not consistently monitor the follow-up performed on projects on the Management Watch List, OMB could not readily tell GAO which of the 621 projects received follow-up attention. Thus, OMB was not using its Management Watch List as a tool in setting priorities for improving IT investments on a governmentwide basis and focusing attention where it was most needed.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2008, OMB issued governmentwide and agency assessments of the projects on the Management Watch List, identifying risks and opportunities for improvement, including risk management and security.

    Recommendation: In order for OMB to take advantage of the potential benefits of using the Management Watch List as a tool for analyzing and following up on IT investments on a governmentwide basis, the Director of OMB should analyze the prioritized list to develop governmentwide and agency assessments of the progress and risks of IT investments, identifying opportunities for continued improvement.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As a result of this and other recommendations to OMB for improving its oversight and transparency of IT investments, in June 2009, OMB publicly deployed a dashboard that provides details on all major federal information technology investments and provides it (and others) with the ability to track the progress of these investments over time. The detailed information collected could allow for prioritizing IT projects to guide follow-up activities.

    Recommendation: In order for OMB to take advantage of the potential benefits of using the Management Watch List as a tool for analyzing and following up on IT investments on a governmentwide basis, the Director of OMB should use the list as the basis for selecting projects for follow-up and for tracking follow-up activities. To guide follow-up, the Director of OMB should develop specific criteria for prioritizing the IT projects included on the list, taking into consideration such factors as the relative potential financial and program benefits of these IT projects, as well as potential risks.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2006, OMB started publicly releasing aggregate data on its Management Watch List, followed by quarterly updates, but did not publish the specific reasons why projects were placed on the Management Watch List. Subsequently, in April 2008, OMB began to publicly disclose the projects' deficiencies; that is, the reasons for inclusion on the Management Watch List.

    Recommendation: In order for OMB to take advantage of the potential benefits of using the Management Watch List as a tool for analyzing and following up on IT investments on a governmentwide basis, the Director of OMB should develop a central list of projects and their deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2008, OMB reported its updated govermnentwide and agency assessments of the projects on the Management Watch List to Congress. These assessments showed agenices' progress in addressing risk since the initial April 2008 assessments and also highlighted areas still needing management attention.

    Recommendation: In order for OMB to take advantage of the potential benefits of using the Management Watch List as a tool for analyzing and following up on IT investments on a governmentwide basis, the Director of OMB should report to the Congress on progress made in addressing risks of major IT investments and management areas needing attention.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Jun 10, 2014

May 22, 2014

May 12, 2014

May 8, 2014

May 7, 2014

Apr 2, 2014

Feb 26, 2014

Feb 12, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here