Oversight

DOD business systems under fire -- again

room of computers

The Defense Department's struggle to take its business systems enterprisewide and into the 21st century continues. Once again, the Government Accountability Office has issued a report criticizing the modernization program.

If it sounds familiar, it's because GAO designated DOD’s multibillion-dollar business systems modernization program as high risk in 1995 and since then has provided recommendations for DOD to strengthen its approach and reduce risks. Provisions in the fiscal 2005 National Defense Authorization Act mandated transition plans for modernization and DOD-wide business enterprise infrastructure, but the department continues to struggle, according to the latest report.

"Even though DOD has spent more than 10 years and at least $379 million on its business enterprise architecture, its ability to use the architecture to guide and constrain investments has been limited by, among other things, the lack of a detailed plan," the report's authors wrote. "The department's latest version of its transition plan included data on more than 1,200 covered defense business systems; however, important content, such as time-phased milestones and performance measures, is still needed to address the act's requirements."

The report also outlines DOD's troubles in investment management and accountability structure, compliance in reengineering and realignment of its business processes, and management of workforce needs.

"Collectively, these limitations put the billions of dollars spent annually on approximately 2,100 business system investments that support DOD functions at risk," the report states. "GAO's previous recommendations to the department have been aimed at accomplishing these and other activities related to the business systems modernization. However, to date, the department has not implemented 29 of the 63 recommendations that GAO has made in these areas."

According to the report, officials have blamed three major factors for at least some of the troubles. They are recent turnover, changes to requirements that expand the number of systems subject to certification, and a short time frame for implementing an investment review process for DOD's portfolio of business systems and processes.

In the past, officials have also pointed to DOD's many legacy business systems and the efforts to upgrade and replace them as major factors in their struggles to bring DOD's backend systems up to speed.

"Today, DOD is implementing multiple business systems across the military departments and defense agencies to serve as the business backbone of their operations," wrote Robert Hale, DOD's comptroller, and Elizabeth McGrath, DOD's deputy chief management officer, in joint testimony for Congress in September 2012. "Each of these implementations is at a different stage of its life cycle and most have experienced challenges as they have moved from design to implementation. These challenges have led to cost and schedule overruns of varying degrees, and include issues such as insufficient business process reengineering being conducted early and upfront in their life cycles, data quality/cleansing, and changing scope and requirements."

Hale and McGrath also testified that progress was being made in DOD's business systems management, which includes mandates for reaching audit-readiness by 2014.

"There are significant challenges, but they are not insurmountable," they wrote in their joint testimony. "We are making meaningful progress."

Although GAO did recognize some steps forward in the latest report, the authors reiterated the need for DOD to follow through with the watchdog agency's counsel.

"Until DOD implements GAO recommendations and addresses the weaknesses described in this report, it will be challenged in its ability to manage the billions of dollars invested annually in modernizing its business system investments," the report states.

The 2014 Federal 100

FCW is very pleased to profile the women and men who make up this year's Fed 100. 

Reader comments

Tue, May 21, 2013

It's All The Same Store! What part of that do they not understand? You will NEVER be able to make thousands of systems be able to talk to each other, and produce auditable results. Time for a clean sheet of paper, and build new enterprise-wide systems for each function.

Tue, May 21, 2013 Christopher Hanks United States

The time is long overdue for the Congress to fire the GAO as its management consultant of choice on how "modernize" the DOD's "business practices" and its "business IT systems." The root cause of the DOD's difficulties here has nothing to do with "architectures," "transition plans," "certifications," or "investment-reviews" -- all of which have been dutifully pursued by the DOD for the last 20 years in response to GAO's broken-record advice about how "important" those things are. The CFO Act of 1990 (which the GAO designed and convinced the Congress to pass) , and its requirement that the DOD (and all other executive branch agencies in the government) must start producing balance sheets and income statements as if they were private-sector businesses (as opposed to public activities that run on budgets), is the root cause of the DOD's IT-system difficulties. Because of misguided GAO advice given to the Congress over 20 years ago, the DOD is being required to build and use IT systems that do private-sector-style financial accounting, which has nothing to do with how the DOD operates as a budget-driven executive-branch agency responsible for providing national security. It is no wonder the DOD continues to have difficulties: it is being required by the GAO to do something that makes no sense and will help no one - not the Congress, not the Secretary of Defense, not OMB, and not line managers in the DOD - do a better job of allocating and using the massive resources the Department consumes every year.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above