Most Federal Agencies Have Done Little Planning for ADP Disasters

AFMD-81-16: Published: Dec 18, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 1980.

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As most federal agencies are extremely dependent on automatic data processing (ADP) systems, GAO reviewed the lack of effort among many federal agencies to develop backup plans to maintain reasonable continuity of data processing support when normal ADP operations are disrupted.

GAO found not only a lack of understanding in the Federal Government of the importance of ADP backup planning, but also that agency top management has not fulfilled its responsibility for implementing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements for such plans. Of 55 activities reviewed, GAO did not find a single ADP backup plan which it considered adequate. Many activities only had written letters of agreement which were not sufficient. An adequate ADP backup plan should reduce the effects of a disaster by providing smooth, rapid restoration of an activity's critical operations until a lost ADP system can be permanently replaced or recovered. A review of interagency agreements indicated that: agreements are not always current, fulfilling agreements puts the agency providing backup in a contingency mode, ADP backup capability is not periodically tested to ensure compatibility of systems, most agreements contain only a single option, and agreements contain no guarantee that the backup equipment will be made available in the event of need. If operating systems have been modified, additional backup problems can be encountered. OMB has not provided the strong leadership needed to emphasize the importance of ADP backup planning and its role in reducing the risk that loss of ADP capability in an emergency could keep agencies from meeting their responsibilities.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: GAO has no information on the actions taken by the agency.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should: (1) establish a mandatory requirement for each Federal department and agency to organize an ADP executive committee, with membership comprising top management, to enhance management's involvement in ADP policy and responsibilities, as directed by Federal regulation, and this committee should report its activities to OMB before OMB approves the department's or agency's fiscal budget; (2) reaffirm that Federal agencies should test their ADP backup plans periodically to ensure continuity of data processing support in an emergency; (3) request that Inspector General or internal audit groups within each Federal agency evaluate ADP backup plans, review tests and test results in accordance with the OMB criteria, and report their evaluation to the ADP executive committee; (4) ensure that the Department of Commerce develops standards for ADP backup plans; and (5) issue policy cautioning against modifying operating systems software because of the increased difficulties such modifications cause, particularly in the area of backup.

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


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