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Digital Service Programs: Assessing Results and Coordinating with Chief Information Officers Can Improve Delivery of Federal Projects

GAO-16-733T Published: Jun 10, 2016. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 2016.
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What GAO Found

In a draft report, GAO determined that the General Service Administration's (GSA) 18F and Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) U.S. Digital Service (USDS) have provided a variety of services to agencies supporting their information technology (IT) efforts. Specifically, 18F staff helped 18 agencies with 32 projects and generally provided development and consulting services, including software development solutions and acquisition consulting. In addition, USDS provided assistance on 13 projects across 11 agencies and generally provided consulting services, including quality assurance, problem identification and recommendations, and software engineering. Further, according to GAO's survey, managers were generally satisfied with the services they received from 18F and USDS on these projects (see table).

Results of GAO Survey on Satisfaction with Digital Services Projects


Very satisfied

Moderately satisfied

Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied

Moderately dissatisfied

No response







U.S. Digital Service






Source: GAO survey of agency project managers that engaged with 18F and USDS. | GAO16733T

Both 18F and USDS have partially implemented practices to identify and help agencies address problems with IT projects. Specifically, 18F has developed several outcome-oriented goals and related performance measures, as well as procedures for prioritizing projects; however, not all of its goals are outcome-oriented and it has not yet fully measured program performance. Similarly, USDS has developed goals, but they are not all outcome-oriented and it has established performance measures for only one of its goals. USDS has also measured progress for just one goal. Further, it has not fully implemented its procedures for prioritizing projects. Until 18F and USDS fully implement these practices, it will be difficult to hold the programs accountable for results.

Agencies are beginning to establish digital service teams. Of the 25 agencies that requested funding for these teams, OMB has established charters with 6 agencies for their digital service teams. In addition, according to the USDS Deputy Administrator, USDS plans to establish charters with an additional 3 agencies by the end of the fiscal year—the Department of Education, as well as the Social Security Administration and Small Business Administration. For the remaining 16 agencies, as of April 2016, 8 agencies reported that they plan to establish digital service teams but have yet to establish charters with USDS. The other 8 agencies reported that they do not plan to establish digital service teams by September 2016 because they did not receive requested funding. Further, of the four agencies GAO selected to review, only one has defined the relationship between its digital service team and the agency Chief Information Officer (CIO). This is due, in part, to the fact that USDS policy does not describe the expected relationship between CIOs and these teams. Until OMB updates its policy and ensures that the responsibilities between the CIOs and digital services teams are clearly defined, it is unclear whether CIOs will be able to fulfill their statutory responsibilities with respect to IT management of the projects undertaken by the digital service teams.

Why GAO Did This Study

In an effort to improve IT across the federal government, in March 2014 GSA established a team, known as 18F that provides IT services to agencies. In addition, in August 2014 the Administration established USDS, which aims to improve the federal IT services provided to citizens. OMB also required agencies to establish their own digital service teams.

GAO was asked to summarize its draft report that (1) describes 18F and USDS efforts to address problems with IT projects and agencies' views of services provided, (2) assesses these programs' efforts against practices for performance measurement and project prioritization, and (3) assesses agency plans to establish their own digital service teams. In preparing the draft report on which this testimony is based, GAO reviewed 32 18F projects and 13 USDS projects that were underway or completed as of August 2015 and surveyed agencies about these projects; reviewed 18F and USDS in key performance measurement and project prioritization practices; reviewed 25 agencies' efforts to establish digital service teams; and reviewed documentation from four agencies, which were chosen based on their progress made in establishing digital service teams.


GAO's draft report includes two recommendations to GSA and three recommendations to OMB to improve goals and performance measurement. In addition, GAO's draft report is recommending that OMB update USDS policy to define the relationships between CIOs and digital services teams.

Full Report

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