Information Resources:

Management Improvements Essential for Key Agriculture Automated Systems

IMTEC-90-85: Published: Sep 12, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service's (ASCS) two major information resources management projects, focusing on: (1) the costs and schedule delays for the Grain Inventory Management System (GIMS) and Processed Commodity Inventory Management System (PCIMS); and (2) how ASCS monitored and managed disk capacity to determine upgrades for minicomputers in its county offices.

GAO found that: (1) current cost estimates for the two commodity inventory systems amounted to approximately $62 million, almost nine times the initial estimate of $7 million; (2) ASCS misjudgment of user requirements resulted in its underestimation of both systems' size and scope; (3) the lack of management control over system design changes resulted in increased system complexity and the automation of unnecessary functions with no cost-saving potential; (4) poor contract management, interagency coordination, and some external factors contributed to system development problems; (5) since weaknesses existed in ASCS county office minicomputer disk capacity management, the ASCS request for $258 million for future disk capacity requirements is based on current inefficient disk use; and (6) ASCS lacked reliable information to justify its request for interim computer equipment upgrades.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ASCS has started regular training of its senior managers, project manager, and other staff in project management methodology and software packages.

    Recommendation: Because of the management and oversight problems evident in ASCS automation projects, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, ASCS, to improve project management and oversight for new information systems development or enhancement projects by ensuring that: (1) information needs are sufficiently identified to describe the scope and magnitude of software systems projects before advancing to the development phase; and (2) project size and scope are reasonably controlled.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Administrators of ASCS, AMS, and FNS signed an agreement in February 1991 establishing a joint PCIMS Management Board to provide oversight for completing the development, implementation, and operation of PCIMS.

    Recommendation: Because of the management and oversight problems evident in ASCS automation projects, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrators of ASCS, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to complete an agreement governing software maintenance for PCIMS and establish an effective resolution process to arbitrate interagency disagreements to ensure orderly and timely system implementation and maintenance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ASCS has corrected flaws in its forecasting model used for estimating future equipment needs. ASCS has prepared a revised estimate for fiscal years 1990-1992 funding using the new model.

    Recommendation: Because of the management and oversight problems evident in ASCS automation projects, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct that the ASCS fiscal years 1990-1992 funding request for county office minicomputer upgrades, maintenance, software, and other equipment be reestimated and that any additional funding needed beyond the approximately $26 million remaining in existing procurement authority be contingent upon correcting the flaws in ASCS forecasting to more accurately estimate equipment upgrade needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ASCS has developed manual and automated processes to better manage disk capacity. It has implemented these processes and revised its estimate of minicomputer disk capacity funding needs for fiscal year 1993 and beyond using its corrected model used to estimate future equipment needs.

    Recommendation: Because of the management and oversight problems evident in ASCS automation projects, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct that approval of ASCS requests for county office minicomputer equipment procurement authority for fiscal year 1993 and beyond be contingent upon its implementing a more effective disk capacity management program, as verified by the USDA Office of Information Resources Management.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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