Information Technology:

Key Federal Agencies Need to Address Potentially Duplicative Investments

GAO-13-718: Published: Sep 12, 2013. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2013.

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What GAO Found

Of the 590 information technology (IT) investments reviewed, GAO identified 12 potentially duplicative investments at three key federal agencies--namely, the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Defense (DOD), and Health and Human Services (HHS). These investments accounted for about $321 million in reported IT spending for fiscal years 2008 through 2013. Of the 12 investments, GAO identified:

  • two potentially duplicative investments at DHS that support immigration enforcement booking management, which includes the processing of apprehended illegal aliens suspected of committing criminal violations of immigration law;
  • four such investments at DOD, which include two investments that track health care status of warfighters, with one since having been canceled, and two investments that manage dental care; and
  • six potentially duplicative investments at HHS, which include four investments that support enterprise information security and two for Medicare coverage determination.

DHS officials said having the two immigration booking investments were due in part to one component agency's unique requirements but were unable to provide analysis showing why one system could not satisfy the unique requirements. DOD officials recognized that the investments GAO identified were duplicative and have canceled one of the health care systems and intend to consolidate the dental systems by 2015 but had not developed a plan on how this was to be accomplished. HHS officials disagreed that its information security investments were duplicative but nonetheless plan to review them by September 2013 to identify opportunities for consolidation. Regarding the Medicare coverage determination investments, HHS officials noted that they have consolidated several functions but could not provide documented justification for why the other functions were not consolidated. By addressing these duplications, the agencies will be able to provide assurance they are avoiding investing in unnecessary systems and thus saving resources.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government budgets more than $82 billion annually for IT. Given the magnitude of this investment, it is important that federal agencies avoid investing in duplicative systems to ensure the most efficient use of resources. GAO's prior work has shown that agencies were funding IT investments that perform similar functions, thus raising concern that these agencies were investing in unnecessary systems. This work also raised questions about whether agencies have similar potentially duplicative investments in other areas.

GAO was asked to review duplicative IT investments. The objective of this report was to identify whether there are other potentially duplicative IT investments at key federal agencies. To do so, GAO selected for review the three agencies with the largest amount of planned IT spending--DHS, DOD, and HHS. GAO analyzed agency budgetary data (submitted to the Office of Management and Budget) that categorize investments by function to identify investments that performed similar functions. Such investments were further grouped by their specific mission purpose and discussed with agency officials, including whether they could be consolidated or eliminated.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD develop a plan and DHS and HHS conduct analyses to address the potentially duplicative investments identified in this report. DOD and HHS agreed with GAO's recommendations but DHS disagreed. GAO believes that analysis by DHS on why one system would not support both agencies' requirements is needed.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Department of Homeland Security has taken steps to review these potentially duplicative investments, including whether there are opportunities to consolidate them. For example, the department's chief IT enterprise architect reported to us that the department had determined that both the ICE and CBP booking applications use the same immigration database while serving mission needs that are unique to each of these agencies. In addition, the department has continued to identify opportunities to share information between the two applications. For example, in August 2014, the chief enterprise architect reported that a memorandum of understanding was made between ICE and CBP to share detention-related data between the booking applications. More recently the department decided to evaluate moving its current suite of immigration-related applications--including the two that were part of our recommendation--to a cloud-based solution. Specifically, the department in April 2015 requested information from contractors (via a RFI--Request for Information) as part of formulating plans to create a cloud computing solution that would serve the department's immigration needs. As part of this, the department plans to examine whether a single application can be utilized to serve ICE and CPB immigration functions. According to DHS, the timeline for this examination, including the initiation of the cloud deployment, will be completed in 2016.

    Recommendation: To better ensure agencies avoid duplicative investments, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct appropriate officials to address the potentially duplicative investments identified in this report, including assessing the extent to which a single system could meet Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration enforcement booking requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, the Department of Defense developed and documented a plan of action and milestones for the single dental system solution. This plan includes, among other things, the key tasks to be completed and dates for when the department expects to transition the solution to all of its services. Specifically, the plan stated that the department started to deploy the solution to the Navy (the Army and Air Force currently use the solution) in October 2013, and plans to finish their deployment by September 2022. In October 2022, the Navy plans to retire their existing dental system, which we identified as potentially duplicative with the single dental system solution.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct appropriate officials to develop and document a plan on how the department intends to migrate its single dental system solution to all the services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: We contacted the department and are awaiting a response on its efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct appropriate officials to assess whether it would be cost effective to consolidate the remaining functions of the Medicare coverage determination systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services


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