Information Technology:

Agencies Need to Establish and Implement Incremental Development Policies

GAO-14-361: Published: May 1, 2014. Publicly Released: May 8, 2014.

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What GAO Found

All five agencies in GAO's review—the Departments of Defense (Defense), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), Transportation (Transportation), and Veterans Affairs (VA)—have established policies that address incremental development; however, the policies usually did not fully address three key components for implementing the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) guidance (see table). Specifically, only VA fully addressed the three components. Among other things, agencies cited the following reasons that contributed to these weaknesses: (1) the guidance was not feasible because not all types of investments should deliver functionality in 6 months, and (2) the guidance did not identify what agencies' policies are to include or time frames for completion. GAO agrees these concerns have merit. Until OMB issues realistic and clear guidance and agencies address the weaknesses in their incremental development policies, it will be difficult to deliver project capability more rapidly.

Assessment of Selected Agencies' Incremental Development Policies

Component

Defense

HHS

DHS

Transportation

VA

Require delivery of functionality every 6 months

Define functionality

Define a process for enforcing compliance

Key =Fully met =Partially met =Not met

Source: GAO analysis of agency documentation.

The weaknesses in agency policies have enabled inconsistent implementation of incremental development approaches: almost three-quarters of the selected investments did not plan to deliver functionality every 6 months, and less than half planned to deliver functionality in 12-month cycles (see table). Without consistent use of incremental development approaches, information technology (IT) expenditures are more likely to continue producing disappointing results.

Number of Selected Investments Planning to Incrementally Deliver Functionality

Agency

Total number of selected investments

Investments planning to deliver functionality every 6 months

Investments planning to deliver functionality every 12 months

Defense

37

1

11

HHS

14

9

11

DHS

12

2

6

Transportation

20

5

7

VA

6

6

6

Totals

89

23

41

Source: GAO analysis of agency data.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal agencies plan to spend at least $82 billion on IT in fiscal year 2014. However, prior IT expenditures have often produced disappointing results. Thus, OMB has called for agencies to deliver investments in smaller parts or increments. In 2010, it called for IT investments to deliver capabilities every 12 months and now requires investments to deliver capabilities every 6 months. GAO was asked to review agencies' incremental development approaches. Among other things, this report (1) assesses whether selected agencies have established policies for incremental IT development; and (2) determines whether selected agencies are using incremental development approaches to manage their IT investments. To do so, GAO selected five agencies—Defense, HHS, DHS, Transportation, and VA—and 89 total investments at these agencies. GAO then reviewed the agencies' incremental development policies and plans.

What GAO Recommends

Among other things, GAO recommends that OMB develop and issue realistic and clear guidance on incremental development and that the selected agencies update and implement their incremental development policies to reflect OMB's guidance. OMB partially disagreed, believing its guidance is realistic. Four agencies generally agreed with the report or had no comments, and one agency did not agree that its recommendations should be dependent on OMB first taking action. GAO continues to believe that its recommendations are valid, as discussed in this report.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should direct the Federal Chief Information Officer to update, and clearly and explicitly issue incremental development guidance that addresses the following three components: (1) requires projects associated with major IT investments to deliver incremental functionality at least every 12 months, with the exception of the three types of investments identified in this report; (2) specifies how agencies are to define the project functionality that is to be delivered; and (3) requires agencies to define a process for enforcing compliance with incremental functionality delivery, such as the use of TechStat sessions.

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should direct the Federal Chief Information Officer to require agencies to clearly identify on exhibit 300 submissions whether, for each project, functionality will be delivered within the time frames called for by this incremental development guidance, and to provide justification for projects that do not plan to do so.

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

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation should modify, finalize, and implement their agencies' policies governing incremental development to ensure that those policies comply with OMB's guidance, once that guidance is made available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation should modify, finalize, and implement their agencies' policies governing incremental development to ensure that those policies comply with OMB's guidance, once that guidance is made available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation should modify, finalize, and implement their agencies' policies governing incremental development to ensure that those policies comply with OMB's guidance, once that guidance is made available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation should modify, finalize, and implement their agencies' policies governing incremental development to ensure that those policies comply with OMB's guidance, once that guidance is made available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: When updating their policies, the Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation should consider the factors identified in this report as enabling and inhibiting incremental development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: When updating their policies, the Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation should consider the factors identified in this report as enabling and inhibiting incremental development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: When updating their policies, the Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation should consider the factors identified in this report as enabling and inhibiting incremental development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: When updating their policies, the Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation should consider the factors identified in this report as enabling and inhibiting incremental development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should consider incorporating the factors identified in this report as enabling and inhibiting incremental development in the department's related policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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