Information Technology Reform:

Agencies Need to Increase Their Use of Incremental Development Practices

GAO-16-469: Published: Aug 16, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 2016.

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What GAO Found

For fiscal year 2016, 22 agencies reported 64 percent of their software development projects would deliver useable functionality every 6 months on the Information Technology (IT) Dashboard, as required by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). However, shortcomings with OMB's guidance—the lack of clarity regarding the types of projects where incremental development would not apply and how the status of these non-software projects should be reported—have affected the accuracy of the data on the IT Dashboard.

GAO reviewed 7 departments' software projects and found approximately half of these projects reported delivery of functionality every 6 months. However, there are significant differences in the data reported to GAO and on the IT Dashboard (see figure below) due to inconsistencies in reporting non-software projects, the timing of reporting, and a lack of support for reported delivery, which affects the accuracy of reported rates. Department officials also reported that management and organizational challenges and project complexity and uniqueness impact their ability to deliver incrementally. It is critical that departments continue to improve their use of incremental development to deliver functionality and reduce the risk that these projects will not meet cost, schedule, and performance goals.

Comparison of Software Development Projects' Percentage of Planned Delivery Every Six Months Reported on IT Dashboard and to GAO for Fiscal Year 2016

Comparison of Software Development Projects' Percentage of Planned Delivery Every Six Months Reported on IT Dashboard and to GAO for Fiscal Year 2016

ªDefense did not provide the requested information in time to verify the information reported to GAO.

Although OMB's requirement has been in place since June 2015, only three departments (Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Transportation) had policies and processes to ensure that the chief information officer would certify IT investments are adequately implementing incremental development. Officials from three departments reported they were updating their existing policies to address certification, but had not yet finalized these efforts, and one department stated its current processes were sufficient.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal agencies plan to spend more than $89 billion on IT in fiscal year 2017. Historically, long-term system development projects have often produced disappointing results. To help address these issues, OMB now requires agencies to deliver useable functionality every 6 months to reduce risk and deliver capabilities more quickly. GAO's objectives were to (1) describe the number of major IT investments primarily in development identified on the IT Dashboard as reporting the delivery of functionality every 6 months; (2) assess selected departments' and investments' delivery of incremental functionality and determine the factors affecting delivery rates; and (3) assess the quality and completeness of selected departments' plans to employ incremental development practices. GAO analyzed information on the IT Dashboard, analyzed reported project data and policies of 7 selected departments with the most investments primarily in development, and interviewed OMB and department officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making 12 recommendations to 8 agencies to improve reporting of incremental data on the IT Dashboard and policies for CIO certification of adequate incremental development. Five departments agreed with our recommendations, the Department of Defense partially agreed with one and disagreed with another, OMB did not agree or disagree, and the Department of the Treasury did not comment on the recommendations. GAO continues to believe its recommendations are appropriate.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, OMB did not agree or disagree with our recommendation. We will plan to follow up on agency implementation actions.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the accuracy of IT Dashboard incremental development data, the Director of OMB should direct the Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) to clarify existing guidance regarding what IT investments are and are not subject to requirements on the use of incremental development and how CIOs should report the status of projects that are not subject to these requirements.

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, DHS concurred with our recommendation. We will plan to follow up on agency implementation actions.

    Recommendation: To improve the quality of the seven departments' information on project incremental delivery reported to the IT Dashboard, the Secretaries of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to review major IT investment project data reported on the IT Dashboard and update the information as appropriate in the following areas: (1) whether the project is in-progress or complete; (2) whether the project is a software development project or not; and (3) the status of the delivery of functionality every 6 months, ensuring that these data are consistent across all reporting channels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, Education concurred with our recommendation. We will plan to follow up on agency implementation actions.

    Recommendation: To improve the quality of the seven departments' information on project incremental delivery reported to the IT Dashboard, the Secretaries of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to review major IT investment project data reported on the IT Dashboard and update the information as appropriate in the following areas: (1) whether the project is in-progress or complete; (2) whether the project is a software development project or not; and (3) the status of the delivery of functionality every 6 months, ensuring that these data are consistent across all reporting channels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, Commerce concurred with our recommendation. We will plan to follow up on agency implementation actions.

    Recommendation: To improve the quality of the seven departments' information on project incremental delivery reported to the IT Dashboard, the Secretaries of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to review major IT investment project data reported on the IT Dashboard and update the information as appropriate in the following areas: (1) whether the project is in-progress or complete; (2) whether the project is a software development project or not; and (3) the status of the delivery of functionality every 6 months, ensuring that these data are consistent across all reporting channels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, Defense partially concurred with our recommendation. We plan to follow up.

    Recommendation: To improve the quality of the seven departments' information on project incremental delivery reported to the IT Dashboard, the Secretaries of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to review major IT investment project data reported on the IT Dashboard and update the information as appropriate in the following areas: (1) whether the project is in-progress or complete; (2) whether the project is a software development project or not; and (3) the status of the delivery of functionality every 6 months, ensuring that these data are consistent across all reporting channels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, HHS concurred with our recommendation. We will plan to follow up on agency implementation actions.

    Recommendation: To improve the quality of the seven departments' information on project incremental delivery reported to the IT Dashboard, the Secretaries of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to review major IT investment project data reported on the IT Dashboard and update the information as appropriate in the following areas: (1) whether the project is in-progress or complete; (2) whether the project is a software development project or not; and (3) the status of the delivery of functionality every 6 months, ensuring that these data are consistent across all reporting channels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, Transportation concurred with our recommendation. We will plan to follow up on agency implementation actions.

    Recommendation: To improve the quality of the seven departments' information on project incremental delivery reported to the IT Dashboard, the Secretaries of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to review major IT investment project data reported on the IT Dashboard and update the information as appropriate in the following areas: (1) whether the project is in-progress or complete; (2) whether the project is a software development project or not; and (3) the status of the delivery of functionality every 6 months, ensuring that these data are consistent across all reporting channels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, Treasury did not comment on our recommendation. We will plan to follow up.

    Recommendation: To improve the quality of the seven departments' information on project incremental delivery reported to the IT Dashboard, the Secretaries of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to review major IT investment project data reported on the IT Dashboard and update the information as appropriate in the following areas: (1) whether the project is in-progress or complete; (2) whether the project is a software development project or not; and (3) the status of the delivery of functionality every 6 months, ensuring that these data are consistent across all reporting channels.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, Education concurred with our recommendation. We will plan to follow up on agency implementation actions.

    Recommendation: To improve the certification of adequate incremental development, the Secretaries of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to establish a department policy and process for the certification of major IT investments' adequate use of incremental development, in accordance with OMB's guidance on the implementation of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, Defense did not concur with our recommendation. We plan to follow up.

    Recommendation: To improve the certification of adequate incremental development, the Secretaries of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to establish a department policy and process for the certification of major IT investments' adequate use of incremental development, in accordance with OMB's guidance on the implementation of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, HHS concurred with our recommendation. We will plan to follow up on agency implementation actions.

    Recommendation: To improve the certification of adequate incremental development, the Secretaries of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to establish a department policy and process for the certification of major IT investments' adequate use of incremental development, in accordance with OMB's guidance on the implementation of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  12. Status: Open

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, Treasury did not comment on our recommendation. We will plan to follow up.

    Recommendation: To improve the certification of adequate incremental development, the Secretaries of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury should direct their CIOs to establish a department policy and process for the certification of major IT investments' adequate use of incremental development, in accordance with OMB's guidance on the implementation of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

 

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