Information Technology Reform:

Progress Made; More Needs to Be Done to Complete Actions and Measure Results

GAO-12-745T: Published: May 24, 2012. Publicly Released: May 24, 2012.

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David A. Powner
(202) 512-9286
pownerd@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

As discussed in our report, OMB and key federal agencies have made progress on selected action items identified in the IT Reform Plan, but there are several areas where more remains to be done. Of the 10 key action items we reviewed, 3 were completed and the other 7 were partially completed by December 2011. The action items that are behind schedule share a common reason for the delays: the complexity of the initiatives. In all seven of the cases, OMB and the federal agencies are still working on the initiatives. However, OMB and federal agencies have established time frames for completing only two of these initiatives.

In a December 2011 progress report on its IT Reform Plan, OMB reported that it made greater progress than we determined. The agency reported that of the 10 action items, 7 were completed and 3 were partially completed. OMB officials from the Office of E-government and Information Technology explained that the reason for the difference in assessments is that they believe that the IT Reform Plan has served its purpose in acting as a catalyst for a set of broader initiatives. They noted that work will continue on all of the initiatives even after OMB declares the related action items to be completed under the IT Reform Plan. We disagree with this approach. In prematurely declaring the action items to be completed, OMB risks losing momentum on the progress it has made to date.

The importance of performance measures for gauging the progress of programs and projects is well recognized. In the past, OMB has directed agencies to define and select meaningful outcome-based performance measures that track the intended results of carrying out a program or activity. Additionally, as we have previously reported, aligning performance measures with goals can help to measure progress toward those goals, emphasizing the quality of the services an agency provides or the resulting benefits to users. Furthermore, industry experts describe performance measures as necessary for managing, planning, and monitoring the performance of a project against plans and stakeholders’ needs.

Recognizing the importance of performance measurement, OMB and GSA have established measures for 4 of the 10 action items we reviewed: data center consolidation, shifting to cloud computing, using contract vehicles to obtain Infrastructure-as-a-Service, and reforming investment review boards. Moreover, OMB reported on three of these measures in the analytical perspectives associated with the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget. Specifically, regarding data center consolidation, OMB reported that agencies were on track to close 525 centers by the end of 2012 and expected to save $3 billion by 2015. On the topic of cloud computing, OMB reported that agencies had migrated 40 services to cloud computing environments in 2011 and expect to migrate an additional 39 services in 2012. Regarding investment review boards, OMB reported that agency CIOs held 294 TechStat reviews and had achieved more than $900 million in cost savings, life cycle cost avoidance, or reallocation of funding. According to government and industry best practices, performance measures should be measurable, outcome-oriented, and actively tracked and managed.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses the progress the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and key federal agencies have made on selected action items associated with information technology (IT) reform. While investments in IT have the potential to improve lives and organizations, some federally funded IT projects can—and have—become risky, costly, unproductive mistakes. With at least $79 billion spent in fiscal year 2011 by the U.S. government on IT investments, it is important to ensure the most efficient and effective use of resources.

In December 2010, the Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) released a 25-point plan for reforming federal IT management. This document established an ambitious plan for achieving operational efficiencies and effectively managing large-scale IT programs. It also clearly identified actions to be completed in three different time frames: (1) within 6 months (by June 2011), (2) between 6 and 12 months (by December 2011), and (3) between 12 and 18 months (by June 2012).

Congress asked us to testify on our report being released today that describes the progress OMB and key federal agencies have made on selected action items in the IT Reform Plan and the extent to which sound measures are in place to evaluate the success of the initiative. In this regard, the testimony specifically covers the progress made on 10 selected IT Reform Plan action items by OMB; the General Services Administration (GSA); and the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Veterans Affairs. In preparing this testimony, we relied on our report being released at today’s hearing. In that report, we evaluated progress by selecting 10 action items from the IT Reform Plan, focusing on action items that (1) were expected to be completed by December 2011, (2) covered multiple different topic areas, and (3) were considered by internal and OMB subject matter experts to be the more important items. We also selected three federal agencies (the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Veterans Affairs) based on several factors, including high levels of IT spending and large numbers of investments in fiscal year 2011.

For more information, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or at pownerd@gao.gov.

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