Federal Chief Information Officers:

Reporting to OMB Can Be Improved by Further Streamlining and Better Focusing on Priorities

GAO-15-106: Published: Apr 2, 2015. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directs agency chief information officers (CIO) to respond to 36 information technology (IT) management reporting requirements, largely on a quarterly or annual basis, that address several areas key to effective IT management (see figure).

Number of Requirements per Key IT Management Area

D:\My Documents\106\Master Graphics Files\jpgs-tifs\Fig00_5-v4-Highlights-311298-cgb-01.tif

OMB uses the information reported by CIOs to help it oversee the federal government's use of IT, including implementation of OMB's IT reform initiatives such as consolidating data centers and eliminating duplication. A majority of 24 CIOs surveyed that responded reported that 24 of the 36 reporting requirements help only to some to no extent in managing IT and that meeting them took significant effort and cost approximately $150 million to $308 million annually. A number of CIOs further noted that these requirements were not always helpful because, among other things, addressing them did not support agency priorities. Nonetheless, GAO has previously emphasized the importance of OMB's reforms and their associated reporting requirements to improving federal IT management and producing savings. Thus it is concerning that CIOs do not always see value in reporting information essential to these reforms. Establishing a common understanding between OMB and CIOs on the priority of these initiatives and their related reporting requirements will help ensure their success.

OMB has taken steps to streamline CIO reporting requirements, such as changing reporting formats from narratives to performance data. Nonetheless, OMB's efforts do not address challenges identified by CIOs, such as tracking all current requirements and having to use multiple online tools to report information. This is partly because OMB has not solicited feedback in these areas, due to its focus on streamlining reporting in other areas. By not addressing these challenges, OMB is missing opportunities to help CIOs improve the requirements reporting process and its use of information collected to effectively manage and oversee federal IT.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal agencies annually invest over $80 billion on IT. As part of overseeing this spending, OMB directs federal CIOs to report on their management of IT in such areas as capital planning and investment management, security, and strategic planning.

GAO was asked to review the usefulness of such CIO reporting requirements. Its objectives were to (1) identify the current IT reporting requirements that agency CIOs are to address for OMB, (2) evaluate the extent to which OMB and agency CIOs use the required information to manage IT, including CIOs' views on the utility of the requirements, and (3) assess any OMB efforts to streamline this reporting. To do so, GAO analyzed OMB memorandums and other guidance to develop a list of CIO requirements and surveyed 24 major agency CIOs on how they used the required information to manage IT. Further, it analyzed OMB documentation and interviewed officials to identify plans to streamline reporting.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending that OMB, in collaboration with CIOs, ensure a common understanding of priority IT reforms and their reporting requirements and address proposed reporting improvements and challenges. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendations, citing concerns with, among other things, GAO's survey methodology, stating it did not fully support the report's findings and recommendations. GAO believes these concerns are largely unfounded and that its recommendations are still valid.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) neither agreed or disagreed with our recommendation. Subsequently, OMB has taken steps to address some aspects of our recommendation. Specifically, in January 2017, OMB worked with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council to issue a report entitled "State of Federal Information Technology (SOFIT)" which outlined current IT trends and their key challenges, and made recommendations to improve implementation efforts. Notably, the report also identified differences in priorities between OMB and agency CIOs on key IT reform initiatives and the need for improved reporting requirements. In addition, in June 2017, OMB staff reported that they met the CIO and head of each agency this past spring regarding their priorities and challenges. While these are positive steps toward ensuring a common understanding of these initiatives and reporting requirements, OMB still needs to take action to address the underlying reasons for these differences in priorities and reduce burdensome and duplicative requirements. Until OMB takes action in these areas, there is a risk that key IT reform initiatives may not fully succeed. We will continue to evaluate OMB's progress in addressing our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of OMB streamlining efforts and ensure agency CIOs are better able to carry out their responsibilities in managing IT, including implementing OMB's IT reform initiatives, the Director of OMB should direct the Federal CIO, in collaboration with agency CIOs, to ensure there is a common understanding with agency CIOs on the priority of the current reporting requirements and related IT reform initiatives. This should include addressing underlying reasons cited by CIOs regarding the usefulness of requirements, including when department priorities are reportedly different than OMB's and the burdensome and duplicative nature of requirements.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has taken steps to address our recommendation. Specifically, OMB has incorporated 10 of the 13 proposed improvements to reporting requirements suggested by agency CIOs in our report. For example, in June 2015, OMB updated its IT capital planning guidance and made significant changes to investment management reporting requirements, including eliminating several fields of data required to be submitted. In addition, OMB streamlined the Cloud First, PortfolioStat, and the Open Data initiative reporting requirements, and changed the requirements for submitting major IT investment documentation and commodity IT baseline updates to OMB. Regarding the remaining 3 areas of improvement, OMB staff reported in June 2017 that they were not able to make the proposed changes because the requirements were outlined in law, and therefore, could not be changed. By addressing 10 of the 13 the proposed improvements to key reporting requirements, OMB is better positioned to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of reporting requirements and help to achieve its goal of improving management, oversight, and transparency of federal IT.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of OMB streamlining efforts and ensure agency CIOs are better able to carry out their responsibilities in managing IT, including implementing OMB's IT reform initiatives, the Director of OMB should direct the Federal CIO, in collaboration with agency CIOs, to address and incorporate, as appropriate, the 13 proposed improvements to reporting requirements made by agency CIOs in our survey. This should include developing milestones and associated plans for completing this effort.

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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2015, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) began holding quarterly meetings with agency Chief Information Officers (CIO) to provide feedback on the investment performance data submitted by the agencies. In addition, OMB staff reported in June 2017 that they had instituted new data collection processes in order to provide feedback to agencies regarding potential data quality issues and errors in their reported information. These new processes are part of OMB's Integrated Data Collection, IT Dashboard, and cybersecurity reporting efforts. By providing more effective feedback to agency officials, OMB is better positioned to help agency CIOs better manage their IT resources and improve reporting, while also improving federal IT management, oversight, and transparency.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of OMB streamlining efforts and ensure agency CIOs are better able to carry out their responsibilities in managing IT, including implementing OMB's IT reform initiatives, the Director of OMB should direct the Federal CIO, in collaboration with agency CIOs, to ensure the feedback process on information reported by CIOs consistently provides effective and constructive responses to these officials on their reported information.

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

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has taken steps to address our recommendation. In particular, OMB staff reported in June 2017 that they had included a list of all reporting requirements on the Integrated Data Collection dashboard, a portal where agencies submit required reporting information. In addition, in June 2017, OMB issued M-17-26 which rescinds and modifies prior OMB memoranda to clarify current reporting requirements for agency Chief Information Officers (CIO). Further, OMB staff reported in June 2017 that they had addressed the agency CIOs' concerns regarding the number of tools by eliminating duplicative data fields within these tools. Lastly, in June 2015, OMB updated its IT capital planning guidance, including the elimination of several fields of previously required data. By taking actions to address our recommendation, OMB is better positioned to address its reported goal of reducing the CIO's reporting burden and helping to improve the reporting process to more effectively manage federal IT.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of OMB streamlining efforts and ensure agency CIOs are better able to carry out their responsibilities in managing IT, including implementing OMB's IT reform initiatives, the Director of OMB should direct the Federal CIO, in collaboration with agency CIOs, to assess, as part of ongoing streamlining efforts, the reporting challenges identified in our report. This should include determining whether to (1) have a comprehensive list of current IT reporting requirements that is publically available to agency CIOs; (2) reduce the number of reporting tools; and (3) improve the utility of capital planning and investment reporting requirements, and taking steps to implement where appropriate.

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

 

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