USDA Information Management:

Proposal to Strengthen Authority of the Chief Information Officer

T-AIMD-98-96: Published: Mar 3, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 3, 1998.

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Joel C. Willemssen
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the problems and challenges the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has faced in managing the more than $1 billion it spends annually on information technology (IT) investments, as well as recent IT reform legislation that established the Chief Information Officer (CIO) position in federal agencies.

GAO noted that: (1) in fiscal year 1998 alone, USDA plans to spend about $1.2 billion on information technology and related information resources management (IRM) activities; (2) USDA has a long history of problems in managing its substantial investments in IT; (3) while many factors have contributed to these problems, a major cause was the lack of strong IRM leadership, accountability, and oversight of the acquisition and use of departmental IT investments; (4) consequently, over time, the department has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in hundreds of systems that are not interoperable with others in the agency and that actually inhibit the use and sharing of information; (5) after more than a decade of poor IT planning and program management by federal agencies, Congress enacted the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 which, in part, seeks to strengthen executive leadership in information management and institute sound capital investment decision-making to maximize the return on information systems investments; (6) other reform legislation includes the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, and the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act; (7) together, Clinger-Cohen and these other laws provide a powerful framework under which federal agencies such as USDA have the best opportunity to improve their management and acquisition of IT; (8) a central element of Clinger-Cohen was the requirement that the head of each executive agency designate a CIO; (9) H.R. 3280 presents requirements to clarify and enhance the authorities of the department's CIO; (10) these requirements are discussed in five major sections; (11) the first addresses the CIO's relationship to the Secretary and the department's Executive Information Technology Investment Review Board; (12) the next three present requirements as they relate to developing and information technology architecture, providing funding for the CIO's office, and establishing control over IT staff across the department; (13) the last provision discusses an annual Comptroller General report on compliance; and (14) GAO sees the thrust of H.R. 3280 as, for the most part, consistent with the goals of Clinger-Cohen and other legislation designed to strengthen executive leadership in information management.

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