Telecommunications:

Agencies Need to Apply Transition Planning Practices to Reduce Potential Delays and Added Costs

GAO-17-464: Published: Sep 21, 2017. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 2017.

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What GAO Found

The General Services Administration's (GSA's) transition guidance to agencies addressed roughly half of its previously identified lessons learned. GSA identified 35 lessons learned from previous telecommunications contract transitions that identify actions that agencies should take. In transition guidance released to agencies, GSA fully addressed 17 of the 35 lessons. Two lessons from previous transitions were not appropriate for the current transition. GSA partially addressed an additional nine lessons. Seven lessons were not addressed at all (see figure). For example, GSA's guidance did not address the previous lesson that agencies should not assume that a transition to a new contract with the same vendor will be easier than a change in vendors. By not including all lessons learned in its plans and guidance to agencies, GSA limits agencies' ability to plan for actions that will need to be taken later in the transition. As a result, agencies face an increased risk that they could repeat prior mistakes, including those that could result in schedule delays or unnecessary costs.

Number of Lessons-Learned Addressed in GSA's Plans and Guidance

Number of Lessons-Learned Addressed in GSA's Plans and Guidance

Selected agencies—the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Labor (DOL), and Transportation (DOT); the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Social Security Administration (SSA)—have yet to fully apply most of the five planning practices previously identified by GAO as key to a successful telecommunications transition. The practices encompass: (1) developing inventories, incorporating strategic needs into transition planning, (2) incorporating strategic needs into transition planning, (3) developing a structured transition-management approach, (4) identifying resources necessary for the transition, and (5) establishing transition processes and measures of success. SEC fully implemented one practice, partially implemented three practices, and did not implement another. The other four agencies partially implemented each of the five practices. Agencies provided various reasons for not following planning practices, including uncertainty due to delays in GSA awarding the new contracts, plans to implement practices later as part of established agency procedures for managing IT projects, and a lack of direction and contractor assistance from GSA. If agencies do not fully implement the practices in the next transition, they will be more likely to experience the kinds of delays and increased costs that occurred in previous transitions.

Why GAO Did This Study

GSA is responsible for contracts providing telecommunications services for federal agencies. Transitions involving previous contracts faced significant delays resulting in increased costs. Because GSA's current telecommunications program, Networx, expires in May 2020, planning for the next transition has begun.

GAO was asked to review preparations for the transition. This report addresses the extent to which (1) GSA's plans and guidance to agencies incorporate lessons learned from prior transitions, and (2) agencies are following established planning practices in their transitions. In performing this work, GAO analyzed GSA lessons learned and transition guidance. GAO also selected five agencies—USDA, DOL, DOT, SEC, and SSA—based on size, structure, and Networx spending. GAO then reviewed the agencies' documentation to determine how they followed five planning practices identified in previous GAO reports.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that GSA disseminate guidance that includes all agency-directed lessons learned. In addition, GAO recommends that USDA, DOL, DOT, SEC, and SSA complete adoption of the planning practices to avoid schedule delays and unnecessary costs. Five agencies agreed with all of our recommendations. SSA agreed with two recommendations, partially disagreed with one, disagreed with two, and provided updated information. GAO stands by the recommendations, as discussed in the report, and revised the report based on SSA's new information.

For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2017, GSA updated its EIS Transition Handbook to include all 16 agency-focused lessons learned. GSA then disseminated these lessons to all agencies involved in the transition by posting this document on its EIS Interact website.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of General Services should disseminate the 16 agency-focused lessons learned that have not been fully incorporated in GSA guidance to the agencies involved in the current transition. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided documentation demonstrating that it had verified the completeness of its telecommunications inventory. The department also provided documentation demonstrating that it had established a process for ongoing maintenance of this inventory. By developing a complete telecommunications inventory and verifying the completeness of it, USDA is better positioned to determine areas for optimization and the sharing of telecommunications resources across the department. In addition, by establishing an ongoing maintenance process for the inventory, USDA is better able to ensure that it consistently and accurately incorporates into its telecommunications inventory any changes that it makes during and after its transition to new telecommunications contracts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer verifies the completeness of its inventory of current telecommunications assets and services and establishes a process for ongoing maintenance of the inventory. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) concurred with our recommendation and stated that it plans to, among other things, provide the EIS vendor community with USDA's future vision and requirements in order to enable each vendor to propose optimal solutions; and update the cost benefit analysis of new technologies while reviewing vendor proposals. However, USDA has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has completed these efforts. We will continue to monitor USDA's progress on these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer completes efforts to identify future telecommunications needs and areas for optimization, identifies the costs and benefits of new technology, and aligns USDA's approach with its long-term plans. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: As we recommended, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) identified transition roles and responsibilities related to the management of assets, human capital, and information security, and legal expertise. USDA also developed a communications plan and change management plan for the transition. However, the department has not yet demonstrated that it has implemented change management, nor that it is using configuration management for the transition. We will continue to monitor USDA's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer identifies transition-related roles and responsibilities related to the management of assets, human capital, and information security, and legal expertise; develops a transition communications plan; and uses configuration and change-management processes in USDA's transition. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials stated that they are in the process of completing an Independent Government Cost Estimate for the transition. The officials also stated that the department is creating an EIS support organization that will address staffing needs for the transition. However, USDA has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has completed these efforts. We will continue to monitor USDA's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer documents the costs and benefits of transition investments, identifies staff resources needed for the remainder of the transition, and analyzes training needs for staff assisting with the transition. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) concurred with our recommendation and stated that it plans to (1) incorporate mission-critical priorities into USDA's requests for quotes; (2) ensure that critical systems are inventoried and that their respective transition plans ensure continuity of operations; and (3) prioritize mission-critical functions within its transition timeline. However, USDA has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has completed these efforts. We will continue to monitor USDA's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer demonstrates that the Department's transition goals and measures align with its mission, identifies transition risks related to critical systems and continuity of operations, and identifies mission-critical priorities in USDA's transition timeline. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Labor (DOL) officials stated that the agency is in the process of developing an inventory of its telecommunications assets and services that are associated with GSA's expiring contracts (e.g., Networx). The officials noted that, as part of the department's transition to EIS, DOL plans to include only limited non-GSA/commercial telecommunications assets and services in its initial transition efforts and inventory. The officials further stated that DOL will not focus on these non-GSA/commercial assets and services until the department completes its transition of assets and services associated with GSA's expiring contracts. We will continue to monitor the department's efforts to develop a complete telecommunications inventory, including assets and services associated with both GSA and non-GSA/commercial contracts, and associated maintenance processes for this inventory.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer verifies the completeness of DOL's inventory of current telecommunications assets and services and establishes a process for ongoing maintenance of the inventory. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor (DOL) provided documentation demonstrating that it has identified certain future telecommunications needs for the department, but DOL did not identify these needs using a complete inventory of its current telecommunications assets and services. In addition, the department demonstrated that it had completed a draft strategic analysis of its telecommunications requirements, but this analysis was not yet finalized and approved. Further, the department has not yet demonstrated that it has aligned its identified telecommunications needs with its long-term plans and enterprise architecture. We will continue to monitor DOT's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer identifies the agency's future telecommunications needs, completes a strategic analysis of the agency's telecommunications requirements, and incorporates the requirements into transition planning. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Labor (DOL) officials stated that the department is in the process of selecting a project manager to develop the Transition Project Plan and other supporting documentation for the transition, including a communications plan. DOL expects to develop this documentation around March 2020. We will continue to monitor the department's progress on these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer identifies transition-related roles and responsibilities related to the management of assets, human capital, and information security, and legal expertise; develops a transition communications plan; and uses project, configuration, and change-management processes in DOL's transition (Recommendation 9)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Labor (DOL) officials stated that the department is in the process of selecting a project manager to develop the Transition Project Plan and other documentation that would address this recommendation. The officials expect to develop this documentation around March 2020. We will continue to monitor the department's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer identifies the resources needed for the full transition, develops justifications for the costs of changes to hardware and software, identifies staff resources needed for the remainder of the transition, and analyzes training needs for staff assisting with the transition. (Recommendation 10)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Labor (DOL) officials stated that the department is in the process of selecting a project manager to develop the Transition Project Plan and other documentation that would address this recommendation. The officials expect to develop this documentation around March 2020. We will continue to monitor the department's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer identifies transition risks related to information security, critical systems, and continuity of operations, and identifies mission-critical priorities in DOL's transition timeline. (Recommendation 11)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  12. Status: Open

    Comments: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) concurred with our recommendation. SEC stated that it plans to establish an EIS planning team comprised of key IT personnel from across the agency to identify, among other things, future needs and areas for improvement, so that SEC can incorporate the results into its transition planning. However, SEC has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has completed these efforts. We will continue to monitor SEC's progress implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission should ensure that the Commission's Chief Information Officer identifies the agency's future telecommunications needs, areas for optimization, and the costs and benefits of new technology; completes a strategic analysis of the commission's telecommunications requirements; and incorporates the identified requirements into transition planning. (Recommendation 12)

    Agency Affected: United States Securities and Exchange Commission

  13. Status: Open

    Comments: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) concurred with our recommendation and stated that it plans to document the roles and responsibilities of key EIS transition team members across the agency. The agency also plans to develop a transition communications plan that includes configuration and change management practices. However, SEC has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has completed these efforts. We will continue to monitor SEC's progress implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission should ensure that the Commission's Chief Information Officer identifies roles and responsibilities related to the management of assets and human capital and legal expertise for the transition; includes key local and regional officials in SEC's transition communications plan; and completes efforts to use configuration and change management processes in the transition. (Recommendation 13)

    Agency Affected: United States Securities and Exchange Commission

  14. Status: Open

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) provided a high-level budget estimate for the transition. However, it was unclear what costs were included in this estimate and the agency did not provide documentation that justified the costs identified. In addition, SEC has not yet provided an analysis of the staff resources it needs for the transition, nor an analysis of the training needs for the staff assisting with the transition. We will continue to monitor SEC's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission should ensure that the Commission's Chief Information Officer identifies the resources needed for the full transition, justifies requests for transition resources, identifies staff resources needed for the full transition, and completes efforts to analyze training needs for staff assisting with the transition. (Recommendation 14)

    Agency Affected: United States Securities and Exchange Commission

  15. Status: Open

    Comments: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has demonstrated that its transition goals and measures align with its mission. In addition, the commission has identified transition risks related to continuity of operations. However, SEC has not yet identified transition risks related to its critical systems, nor identified mission-critical priorities in its transition timeline. We will continue to monitor SEC's progress on these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission should ensure that the Commission's Chief Information Officer completes efforts to demonstrate that the commission's transition goals and measures align with its mission, identifies transition risks related to critical systems and continuity of operations, and identifies mission-critical priorities in SEC's transition timeline. (Recommendation 15)

    Agency Affected: United States Securities and Exchange Commission

  16. Status: Open

    Comments: Social Security Administration (SSA) officials stated that the agency is in the process of making significant changes to its procedures and policy for its telecommunications inventory. The officials expect to have a complete inventory of their telecommunications assets and services by 2021. We will continue to monitor SSA's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer verifies the completeness of SSA's inventory of current telecommunications assets and services and establishes a process for ongoing maintenance of the inventory regarding services other than local and long-distance telecommunications. (Recommendation 16)

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  17. Status: Open

    Comments: Social Security Administration (SSA) officials stated that the agency's priority is to transition its telecommunications services on a like-for-like basis, in order to complete the transition before its existing contracts expire, as well as to receive immediate cost savings. Officials also stated that, once SSA has released its EIS solicitations, they plan to analyze the alignment of their future telecommunications needs with the agency's enterprise architecture. However, SSA has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has completed this analysis. We will continue to monitor SSA's progress on these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer completes identification of the agency's future telecommunications needs and aligns its approach with the agency's enterprise architecture. (Recommendation 17)

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  18. Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) provided documentation demonstrating that it has implemented a change management process, including establishing a change control board that is scheduled to meet on a weekly basis and tracking change requests in its IT Service Management tool. However, SSA has not yet demonstrated that it has implemented configuration management processes for its transition. We will continue to monitor SSA's efforts to implement these processes.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer uses configuration and change-management processes in its transition. (Recommendation 18)

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  19. Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) provided documentation demonstrating that it has identified the staff resources and required training for staff working on the transition. However, SSA has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has identified the funding resources needed for the full transition, nor documented the costs and benefits of transition investments, such as for resource requests related to transition program management staff. We will continue to monitor SSA's efforts to fully implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer identifies the resources needed for the full transition, documents the costs and benefits of transition investments, identifies staff resources needed for the remainder of the transition, and analyzes training needs for all staff working on the transition. (Recommendation 19)

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  20. Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) has identified transition risks related to critical systems and continuity of operations. In addition, SSA officials stated that the agency is in the process of identifying (1) agency-specific measures of success for the transition and (2) mission-critical priorities that need to be incorporated into its transition timeline. However, SSA has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has completed these efforts. We will continue to monitor SSA's efforts to fully implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer completes efforts to identify measures of success for the transition, identifies transition risks related to critical systems and continuity of operations, and identifies mission-critical priorities in SSA's transition timeline. (Recommendation 20)

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  21. Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Transportation (DOT) officials stated that the department has developed a comprehensive inventory of its telecommunications assets and services, and maintains this inventory on a regular basis. However, as of August 2020, the department has not yet provided documentation of its inventory or the associated maintenance processes. We will continue to monitor DOT's efforts to complete this inventory and establish a maintenance process for it.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer verifies the completeness of DOT's inventory of current telecommunications assets and services and establishes a process for ongoing maintenance of the inventory. (Recommendation 21)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  22. Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Transportation (DOT) officials stated that they conducted an assessment of the department's future telecommunication requirements. According to officials, the results of this analysis were included in an EIS Statement of Work. However, DOT has not demonstrated that it used its complete inventory of existing services to identify its future needs. DOT also stated that it has conducted extensive research to identify areas for optimization and sharing, but did not provide documentation of this research. Further, DOT has not provided evidence that the department has aligned its transition approach with its long-term plans and enterprise architecture. We will continue to follow-up with DOT regarding these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer identifies the agency's future telecommunications needs, areas for optimization, and costs and benefits of new technology; and completes efforts to align DOT's approach with its long-term plans and enterprise architecture. (Recommendation 22)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  23. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Transportation (DOT) developed a transition communications plan and identified roles and responsibilities related to legal expertise, the management of assets and human capital. DOT has also provided evidence that they are requiring the use of change management in the transition. However, DOT has not demonstrated that it is applying configuration management processes to DOT's transition efforts. We will continue to monitor DOT's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer identifies roles and responsibilities related to the management of assets and human capital and legal expertise for the transition; develops a transition communications plan; and fully uses configuration and change-management processes in DOT's transition. (Recommendation 23)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  24. Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Transportation (DOT) developed a transition resource plan that identifies functional roles needed for the transition, such as network engineers and staff to place new telecommunications orders. However, the transition resource plan did not identify the staffing levels needed for each of the functional roles, such as how many network engineers are necessary, and DOT did not provide other documentation that fully identifies these resources needs. In addition, DOT has not yet provided documentation that it has identified the funding needed for the full transition, justified requests for transition resources, or fully analyzed training needs for staff assisting with the transition. We will continue to follow-up on DOT's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer fully identifies the resources needed for the full transition, justifies requests for transition resources, identifies staff resources needed for the full transition, and fully analyzes training needs for staff assisting with the transition. (Recommendation 24)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  25. Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Transportation (DOT) provided evidence that its transition goals and measures align with its mission and that it has identified the risks associated with the EIS transition. However, DOT has not yet provided documentation demonstrating that it has identified mission-critical priorities in its transition timeline. We will continue to monitor DOT's efforts to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the Department's Chief Information Officer fully demonstrates that DOT's transition goals and measures align with its mission; completely identifies transition risks related to information security, critical systems, and continuity of operations; and fully identifies mission-critical priorities in the transition timeline. (Recommendation 25)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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