GAO raps Defense for transparency

Teri Takai

DOD CIO Teresa Takai is named in a GAO report alleging that DOD has not been transparent about its high-risk IT investments. (DOD photo)

A Nov. 15 Government Accountability Office report called out the Department of Defense and its CIO, Teresa Takai, for not being transparent in reporting high-risk IT investment and recommends Takai reevaluate investment risk for the agency’s major IT projects.

The GAO report analyzed how six agency CIOs rated a majority of IT investments found on the Federal IT Dashboard, a government website set up in 2009 that reports real-time cost, schedule and performance data for about $40 billion in agencies’ annual IT spending.

From March 2009 to June 2012, DOD rated none of its 87 investments totaling $13 billion as high risk or moderately high risk, but the GAO disagreed with those findings.  

“DOD is masking significant investment risks, has not employed its own risk management guidance, and has not delivered the transparency intended by the Dashboard,” the report states.

Per Office of Management and Budget instructions, CIOs are asked to rate investments listed on the Dashboard as low risk, moderately low risk, medium risk, moderately high risk or high risk.

The GAO report analyzed published data from DOD, the National Science Foundation and the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, and Personnel Management. DOD and NSF were the only two agencies that reported no high risk IT investments.

The report was not critical of the NSF and its relatively modest $85 million in reported IT investments, and did not contradict a statement from an NSF official who told GAO the agency had no high risk investments “because most of their investments were in the operations and maintenance phase.”

However, the report singles out DOD, referencing three investments the Pentagon assessed as low risk or moderately-low risk that the GAO considers being high risk.

Further, the report states the department “identified the need to balance CIO rating, and advised yellow and red ratings could lead to OMB review.” (On IT Dashboard graphs, high-risk investments show up in the color red, medium in yellow and low risk in green.

“The bottom line is the DOD has high-risk projects, it’s pretty well-known and clear, and that should be reflected on Dashboard,” said David Powner, director of IT management issues for GAO.

Powner said inaccurate data like this hinders the transparency the IT Dashboard was designed to provide.

“The whole purpose of Dashboard is to have transparency that is accurate,” Powner said.

The GAO report calls for Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to direct Takai to “reassess the department’s considerations for assigning CIO risk levels for Dashboard investments, including assessments of investment performance and risk from outside the programs, and apply the appropriate elements of the department’s risk management guidance to OMB’s evaluation factors in determining CIO ratings.”

On a broader scale, the GAO also recommends OMB analyze federal agencies’ investment risk over time and present those findings with President Barack Obama’s annual budget submission.

DOD officials did not return calls for comment by press time.   The official departmental comments, included as an appendix to the report, state that “DOD concurs with the recommendation and will update our CIO ratings process to better report risk.”

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Wed, Nov 28, 2012

Keep in mind that without those "followers" you would not have any "leaders." You might do well to remember that in the end, it's all about taxpayer $$$ and accountability.

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 Beltway Billy

Kudos to the DoD for taking risks! Only those leading take risks; followers just repeat leaders' successes.

Mon, Nov 19, 2012

The issue here could be how people define "high risk" and "low risk". DOD engages is warfare which by anybody's assessment is "high risk" while the other Feds do not. So for something like IT where there is not physical violence, it would take a lot for them to consider IT issues as "low risk". As a DOD employee, I do get engaged in risk assessments and what we usually worry about is physical violence so somethings like IT risks are a bit trivial in comparison. I do not expect people in the GAO, itself a "low risk" operation by DOD standards, to fully understand the DOD culture and their definition of "risk".

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