White House targets 26 high-risk IT programs for fixes

White House officials today released a list of 26 information technology projects that have experienced problems such as significant cost increases or schedule delays and will get immediate and systematic attention to put them back on track.

The projects, which span 15 departments and would cost $30 billion for completion, are all mission-critical programs that are being put through a fast-paced reassessment process to move them forward, possibly in modified forms, Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officer, said today.

“This is not about killing projects. It is about making them work better and faster,” Kundra said. “These programs are mission-critical. Their objectives remain as important as ever.”

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The reassessments will include Office of Management and Budget TechStat accountability sessions, improvements plans and specific deliverables, Kundra said.

However, if a project fails the reassessment, it may be stopped, Kundra said.

“The focus here is to make sure they are turned around,” Kundra said. “If they cannot, we will take action. They will be discontinued.”

Kundra did not specify when or exactly how those decisions might be made. In a previous speech, at the NASA IT Summit on Aug. 18, Kundra said the goal was to get the projects on track in the fiscal 2012 budget process. The president is expected to present that budget to Congress in February.

The projects include the Interior Department's Consolidated Infrastructure Automation Telecom at $7.6 billion, the Homeland Security Department's Automated Commercial Environment at $4.5 billion, the Transportation Department's En Route Automated Modernization at 3.7 billion, and the FBI’s Next Generation Identification at $3.4 billion.

The projects were identified through a process of consultation with chief information officers, project managers and other officials in each department, Kundra said. The evaluation identified 26 projects with significant cost or schedule variations from the baseline, failure to meet mission objectives, frequent revisions of the baseline and lack of clear agency sponsorship.

Asked if there was an immediate effect on the project on the list, Kundra said at least one project, the Office of Personnel Management's Retirement Systems Modernization program, has been temporarily suspended from funding. He did not offer details on whether other high-priority programs have been suspended from receiving funding temporarily.

The sponsors of the 26 projects will prepare improvement plans and benchmarks, which will be reviewed under the Office of Management and Budget’s TechStat accountability sessions.

Matthew Perry, chief information officer for the Office of Personnel Management, described the reassessment process as a “special triage” to be applied to projects identified as high-priority, mission-critical and at risk of failure. OPM’s 23-year-old effort to update its retirement systems program, the $136 million retirement systems modernization project, is on the list.

The modernization program is paper-intensive with “complex business rules, Perry said. Its goal is to provide transparency into how retirement benefit calculations are made for federal employees. “We are taking a series of steps to improve it,” he said.

The FBI’s $557 million Sentinel case file modernization program also is on the list. The program is “highly complex, with significant business process re-engineering,” said Vance Hitch, chief information officer for the Justice Department.

The Sentinel program has four phases, and experienced cost overruns and delays in the second phase, he said. The third and fourth phases have been temporarily halted as the department reviews its options for how to proceed and undergoes the TechStat process with OMB, Hitch said.

One possibility is breaking down the project into smaller elements, and providing FBI agents with additional functionality every six months, he said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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