Information Technology:

Agencies Need to Establish Comprehensive Policies to Address Changes to Projects' Cost, Schedule, and Performance Goals

GAO-08-925: Published: Jul 31, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2008.

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The federal government plans to spend about $70 billion on information technology (IT) projects during fiscal year 2008. Consequently, it is important that projects be managed effectively to ensure that public resources are wisely invested. At times, a project's cost, schedule, and performance goals--known as its baseline--are modified to reflect changed development circumstances. These changes--called a rebaselining--can be done for valid reasons, but can also be used to mask cost overruns and schedule delays. GAO was asked to (1) determine the extent of and the primary reasons for IT project rebaselining and (2) determine whether federal agencies have sound policies for rebaselining projects. To do this, GAO surveyed the managers of a random sample of 180 projects selected from the 778 major IT projects the 24 major agencies plan to invest in during fiscal year 2008. GAO also compared agencies' rebaselining policies to best practices.

Based on GAO's survey, approximately 48 percent of the federal government's major IT projects have been rebaselined, and projects are rebaselined for several reasons, including changes in project goals, changes in funding, or inaccurate original baselines. Of the rebaselined projects, 51 percent were rebaselined twice or more, and 11 percent were rebaselined 4 times or more. The most commonly cited reasons for rebaselining were changes in project requirements, objectives, or scope (55 percent of IT projects), and changes in funding stream (44 percent of IT projects). While major agencies have all established rebaselining policies, these policies are not comprehensive. Specifically, none of the policies are fully consistent with best practices, such as describing a process for developing a new baseline. Agencies' policies vary in part because the Office of Management and Budget, which plays a key role in overseeing the federal government's IT investments and how they are managed, has not issued guidance specifying what elements these policies are to include. Without comprehensive policies to guide them, agencies may not be optimizing the effectiveness of rebaselining as a tool to improve performance management. In addition, their rebaselining processes may lack the transparency needed to ensure effective oversight.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2010, the Department of Commerce issued a revised Information Technology Investment Performance Management Policy. This policy describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address weaknesses that we identified in the report.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Director of the National Science Foundation should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2011, the National Science Foundation issued the Baseline Request Procedure. This procedure describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address weaknesses that we identified in our report, including describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline, requiring management review of the new baseline, and requiring that the process be documented

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a guidebook entitled the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Information Technology Project Cost Estimating and Earned Value Management Guidebook. This guidebook describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified, including describing reasons when a rebaseline is warranted, describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline, requiring management review of the new baseline, and requiring that the process be documented.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2011, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration released an update to its Information Technology and Institutional Infrastructure Program and Project Management Requirements. This policy describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified in our report, including describing reasons when a rebaseline is warranted, describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline, requiring management review of the new baseline, and requiring that the process be documented.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Labor should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2010, the Department of Labor issued a memorandum that established a policy for managing its information technology investment baselines. In January 2012, as a companion to this policy, it issued the Information Technology Baseline Management Guide. This guide describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified in our report, including describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline, requiring management review of the new baseline, and requiring that the process be documented.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Attorney General should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2009, the Department of Justice issued its Earned Value Management Implementation Guide. This guide describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified the report.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Interior should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2012, the Department of the Interior instituted a policy for establishing, managing, and changing performance measurement baselines for its major information technology investments. This policy describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified in our report, including describing the reasons when a rebaseline is warranted, describing the process for developing a new baseline, and requiring validation of the new baseline.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2009, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued the Information Technology Investment Management Baseline Change Control Process Guide. This guide describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address weaknesses we identified in the report.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued a number of documents that address rebaselining in the agency, including a Rebaseline Process Guide and an Information Technology Investment Performance Baseline Management policy, issued in May 2010 and December 2010, respectively. This set of documents address weaknesses identified in our report.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Administrator of the General Service Administration should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2010, the General Service Administration's Office of the Chief Information Officer updated its Quarterly Control Report User Guide (fiscal year 2011 Guidance V.6). This guidance describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address weaknesses we identified in our report such as requiring that the new baseline be validated and describing the process for developing a new baseline.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2011, the Department of Homeland Security issued two documents- Instruction Manual 102-01-001: Acquisition Management Instruction/Guidebook and Acquisition Program Baseline. These two documents address the weaknesses that we identified in the report.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies rebaselining policies, the Director of OMB should issue guidance for rebaselining policies that would include a minimum set of key elements, taking into consideration the criteria used in this report.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On June 28, 2010, the Federal Chief Information Officer issued a memorandum addressing the establishment, management, and changes to information technology investment baselines and providing a common structure for agencies' information technology investment baseline management policies. This common structure defines a set of key elements, such as reasons for a revised baseline, and a process for developing a new baseline; both elements are consistent with the criteria identified in our report.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Personnel Management did not implement the recommendation. In comments on a draft of our report, officials stated that they did not agree with our assessment of the agency's rebaselining policy. In September 2010, the office stated that its position had not changed and therefore they would not be addressing our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of State should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of State issued Work Breakdown Structure Guidance and the IT Investment Baseline Management Guide in October 2009 and September 2012, respectively. These documents describe comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified in our report, which included describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline, and requiring that the process be documented.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture released an update to its directive, Information Technology Earned Value Management. This policy describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified, including describing reasons when a rebaseline is warranted, describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline, requiring management review of the new baseline, and requiring that the process be documented.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Energy should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Energy did not implement the recommendation. Department officials were unable to provide evidence showing that the department had addressed the weaknesses we identified in the report.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Education should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2011, the department released its Information Technology Investment Baseline Change Request Guide and updated its procedures for the new baseline processes. This guide describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address weaknesses we identified, including describing the process for developing a new baseline, and requiring validation of the new baseline.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since November 2011, the Department of Defense has provided two policy documents--DOD Instruction 5000.02, December 8, 2008- Operation of the Defense Acquisition System and Directive Type Memorandum 09-027- Implementation of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009--that have sections that address acquisition program baseline policy. These documents describe comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses that we identified in our report, including describing the process for developing a new baseline and requiring management review.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, the Social Security Administration revised its policy entitled "Social Security Administration Earned Value Management System Description." The revised policy describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified in our report, which included describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline, and requiring management review of the new baseline.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Environmental Protection Agency did not implement our recommendation. According to an agency official, the agency is revising its rebaseline policy. However, the agency did not provide a draft of this policy for review.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Small Business Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2011, the Small Business Administration issued its Information Technology Investment Performance Baseline Management Policy. This policy describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address weaknesses that we identified, including describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline, requiring management review of the new baseline, and requiring that the process be documented.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The United States Agency for International Development provided its Information Technology Capital Planning and Investment Control document (revised in August 2011) and its IT Project Governance Manual version 1.1 (revised in April 2010). These documents address weaknesses we identified, including describing the process for developing a new baseline and requiring that the process be documented.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs released an updated Project Management Accountability System Guide (version 3.0). This policy improves the department's rebaselining policies by addressing a weakness we identified in our report associated with requiring validation of the new baseline.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of the Treasury should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of the Treasury has developed a baseline change request policy. This policy is to be finalized by September 2012 but the department is already following the policy. The policy describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified, including describing the process for developing a new baseline, validating a new baseline, requiring management review, and requiring that the process be documented.

    Recommendation: To address the weaknesses identified in agencies' rebaselining policies, the Secretary of the Transportation should direct the development of comprehensive rebaselining policies that address the weaknesses we identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2009, the Department of Transportation revised its Investment Baseline Management policy which is located in its Order 1351.x. This revised policy describes comprehensive rebaselining policies that addresses many weaknesses we identified in our report, including describing the reasons when a rebaseline is warranted, describing the process for developing a new baseline, requiring validation of the new baseline and requiring that the process be documented.

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