USDA Information Management:

Action Needed To Address Long-standing Deficiencies

T-AIMD-97-56: Published: Mar 5, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 5, 1997.

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Joel C. Willemssen
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed: (1) past difficulties that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has experienced in planning for and managing information technology (IT); (2) actions GAO believes USDA must take if it is to significantly improve its management of information technology resources; and (3) USDA's current moratorium on information technology acquisitions.

GAO noted that: (1) USDA and its agencies have poorly planned or managed information technology projects, resulting in the waste of millions of dollars in IT investments; (2) specific deficiencies include inadequate definition of system needs, insufficient analysis of alternatives, proceeding with system modernization before assessing business needs and developing a strategic business plan, not considering departmental restructuring in the planning and acquisition of IT resources, and ineffectively managing USDA's telecommunications program; (3) such deficiencies have allowed programs to be unduly influenced by technology as the driving force, rather than choosing technology to help a program achieve certain strategic goals by first analyzing and revising the mission-related business process; (4) although USDA has several actions underway to implement recommendations that GAO has made over the last 3 years related to these issues, GAO cannot at this time be sure that they will fully address its concerns; (5) USDA will need to fully and properly implement the mandates of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 to begin resolving its long-standing deficiencies in managing and acquiring information technology; (6) some specific provisions of the act which are at the core of how USDA can begin to make improvements relate to: (a) capital planning and investment control; (b) performance and results-based management; and (c) agency chief information officer; (7) USDA has begun taking steps toward meeting the mandates, but has not yet established specific time frames or milestones for full implementation; (8) the Clinger-Cohen Act will be more powerful if it can be integrated with the objectives of broader governmentwide management reform legislation that USDA is also required to implement; (9) the Deputy Secretary established a moratorium on all significant information technology investments to give USDA time to assess its existing and planned investments and constrain IT spending until it develops a departmentwide information architecture and implementation process; and (10) the acting chief information officer also suspended telecommunications investments for the service center implementation effort, with some exceptions, until USDA can assess the impact of the fiscal year 1998 budget.

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