Veterans Affairs:

Continued Focus on Critical Success Factors Is Essential to Achieving Information Technology Realignment

GAO-07-844: Published: Jun 15, 2007. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2007.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spends nearly $1 billion yearly to support its information technology (IT) needs; yet it has encountered persistent challenges in managing IT projects. In October 2005, VA initiated a realignment to centralize its IT management program that it plans to complete by July 2008. GAO was requested to determine (1) whether the department's realignment plan includes critical factors for successful implementation and (2) how the centralized management approach is to ensure that the chief information officer (CIO) is accountable for the department's entire IT budget. To do so, GAO identified critical success factors, analyzed realignment and budget documents, and held discussions with VA officials.

VA's plans for realigning the management of its IT program include elements of several factors that GAO identified as critical to the department's implementation of a centralized structure; additional departmental actions could increase assurance that the realignment will be completed successfully. Since undertaking the realignment, VA has concentrated its efforts on transferring approximately 6,000 staff to the CIO's authority and on creating a new organizational structure. It has also taken certain actions to establish an IT governance plan, identify workforce management responsibilities, and increase communication about the realignment with staff. However, it has not yet created a knowledge and skills inventory to help determine proper roles for all employees in the new organization, established governance boards to manage resources, or dedicated an implementation team to manage change and track the progress of the realignment with performance metrics. As a result, the department risks jeopardizing the success of its efforts and may not realize the long-term benefits of the realignment. Within the new structure, the CIO is to have responsibility for ensuring that there are fiscal controls over the IT appropriation and for overseeing capital planning processes, budget execution, and financial management programs. According to the department, it plans to establish the CIO's control by (1) designating organizations with specific roles and responsibilities for controlling the budget to report directly to the CIO; (2) implementing a governance structure that assigns budget oversight responsibilities to specific governance boards; and (3) developing and implementing IT portfolio management and financial management processes. While these measures show the potential for establishing control of the budget, VA has not yet fully implemented them or committed to a time frame for doing so. Thus, their effectiveness in ensuring the CIO's accountability for the budget has not yet been established.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with and has taken steps to address this recommendation. Specifically, in 2009, the department drafted charters for two of its IT governance boards, the Budgeting and Near Term Investment Board and the Programming and Long Term Issues Board. These charters describe the boards' purposes, functions, roles, and responsibilities. In addition, in 2009, the department began establishing Executive Partnership Councils to handle governance issues between VA's three administrations, its staff offices, and the IT department (i.e., the Office of Information and Technology). Further, based on the organizational realignment of its IT department, VA is in the process of updating its 2007 IT Governance Plan to include detailed governance process descriptions and revisions to the governance board charters. VA intends to provide a draft of the IT Governance Plan for the VA Secretary's review no later than January 31, 2012.

    Recommendation: To ensure that VA's IT realignment is successfully accomplished, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to develop detailed IT governance process descriptions that address how the department will manage IT resources within the centralized organization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with and took actions that addressed this recommendation. Specifically, in November 2007, the department developed a knowledge and skills inventory. A VA contractor further refined the inventory to enable IT employees to use it to identify their career paths within the Office of Information and Technology (OI&T). In September 2009, VA officials stated that the inventory was being used by employees as a career management tool, although the department was not yet using it as a means of determining proper roles for OI&T employees.

    Recommendation: To ensure that VA's IT realignment is successfully accomplished, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to establish a knowledge and skills inventory to determine what skills are available in order to decide the proper roles for all employees transferred to the new organization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with and took steps to address this recommendation. Specifically, in August 2009, the department implemented an IT career management program, which enables IT employees to plan their career paths within the office. This program includes an online portal for employees that, among other things, provides information on recommended training and certification programs. In addition, in March 2010, the department began an initiative to encourage IT staff to register and complete relevant training courses.

    Recommendation: To ensure that VA's IT realignment is successfully accomplished, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to assess personnel requirements under the centralized management model, including career paths and appropriate training requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with this recommendation and has taken steps toward fully staffing the six offices that support its new IT organization--the Office of Information and Technology (OI&T). In this regard, the department established a target staffing level of 95 percent as its goal for transitioning to a centralized IT structure. Toward this end, as of fiscal year 2010, OI&T, as a whole, was staffed at 89 percent of its approved full-time employee level, with the office that comprises the majority of IT employees (i.e., Enterprise Operations and Field Development) being staffed at 92 percent. In fiscal year 2011, OI&T, as a whole, was staffed at 97 percent of its approved full-time employee level, an increase of 8 percentage points over the previous year. VA's efforts toward staffing its IT offices should contribute to its goals for successfully realigning the department's IT functions.

    Recommendation: To ensure that VA's IT realignment is successfully accomplished, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to fully staff all offices necessary for supporting the new organizational structure.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of our report, VA stated that while it concurred in principle with the recommendation, it would not take the approach GAO recommended. In August 2009, VA officials stated that the department's position on this recommendation remained unchanged. In this regard, the officials stated that responsibility for overseeing the realignment would continue to be shared among OI&T's leadership rather than be placed with a dedicated implementation team.

    Recommendation: To ensure that VA's IT realignment is successfully accomplished, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to dedicate an implementation team responsible for change management processes throughout the transformation to a centralized IT structure.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with and has taken steps to address this recommendation. The department established performance metrics for the IT realignment in several areas including resource management, system performance and workload, and IT oversight and compliance. The results of key performance metrics are reported on a monthly basis to the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology and the VA Deputy Secretary. In addition, VA has implemented two approaches to keeping senior management informed of IT project performance: (1) the Project Management Accountability System (PMAS), which establishes milestone criteria for monitoring all projects in 6-month increments and includes decision criteria for continuing, pausing, or stopping a project; and (2) the Budget Tracking Tool (BTT), which tracks and reports performance of OI&T contracts.

    Recommendation: To ensure that VA's IT realignment is successfully accomplished, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to expedite the development of performance metrics to track the progress of the realignment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with and took actions that addressed this recommendation. Specifically, the position of Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Enterprise Strategy, Policy, Plans and Programs was permanently staffed in July 2008, and the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for IT Resource Management was permanently staffed in August 2008.

    Recommendation: To ensure that centralized control of the IT budget is established, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to establish milestones to permanently staff the deputy assistant secretary position for IT Enterprise Strategy, Policy, and Programs and the deputy assistant secretary position for IT Resource Management.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with and took actions that addressed this recommendation. In this regard, the Business Needs and Investment Board was established on May 30, 2007, and the Information Technology Leadership Board was established on June 27, 2007. The boards' charters describe their respective roles and responsibilities, and meeting minutes for 2007 and early 2008 describe the boards' planned activities and actions.

    Recommendation: To ensure that centralized control of the IT budget is established, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to commit to a date for establishing the Business Needs and Investment Board and the IT Leadership Board.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with and took steps to address this recommendation. In January 2009, the VA CIO issued a memorandum to OI&T offices describing the department's multi-year IT budget formulation and execution functions, including the IT portfolio management and financial management processes. Based on information from each VA component, including OI&T, the department intends to develop a comprehensive resourcing strategy for fiscal years 2012 through 2016.

    Recommendation: To ensure that centralized control of the IT budget is established, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer to establish a schedule for the implementation of the IT portfolio management and financial management processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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