GAO: NASA needs to reflect IT investments in EA

audit paperwork

When the Government Accountability Office told NASA officials they needed to do a better job of reflecting their IT investments in their enterprise architecture, they had a ready response at hand: A lot of our stuff is in orbit.

A recent GAO report evaluated the progress of the 26 agencies required to comply with the Office of Management and Budget's 2012 PortfolioStat initiative and found five agencies that failed to incorporate 100 percent of their IT investments in their EAs, as PortfolioStat mandates. NASA was at the bottom of the list.

According to GAO, only 17 percent of NASA's IT investments made it into its EA, which limits the agency's "ability to use this tool as a mechanism to identify low-value, duplicative or wasteful investments."

The State Department (40 percent), U.S. Agency for International Development (75 percent), Commerce Department (90 percent) and Justice Department (97 percent) were the other agencies that missed the 100 percent mark.

Regarding NASA's poor EA documentation of its IT spending, GAO recommended that the agency move to include all its IT investments in its EA from now on.

In a written response to GAO, NASA officials agreed with the recommendation and said they would strive for a goal of 50 percent by the end of fiscal 2014 and 90 percent by the end of fiscal 2015.

But officials also said the 100 percent target might not be attainable because of NASA's evolving mission and the reality of government budget cuts.

A NASA spokesperson told FCW that its IT investments were not well-documented in its EA because most of them are locked up in space-related IT and not corporate systems, where this particular OMB guidance is more applicable. Furthermore, just because an IT investment does not show up in the agency's EA does not mean there is no oversight of it.

"The enterprise EA function primarily focuses on corporate IT systems and does not manage and evaluate the IT expenditures incurred by programs which make up the majority of the IT expenditures at NASA," the spokesperson told FCW. "EA for corporate functions typically [is] easier to manage as opposed to embedded space-related IT, which aligns with programmatic responsibilities. NASA space systems follow rigorous systems engineering principles for design and development, which may not show up as an EA expenditure but still provide similar integration and oversight."

In recent months, NASA's Office of Inspector General made a series of recommendations after a scathing audit of the agency's IT governance, leading CIO Larry Sweet to institute major changes. The latest GAO report piggybacks on the recommendations made by the IG, which included giving the CIO authority over all IT spending at the agency. NASA officials said they would comply with that recommendation.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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Reader comments

Tue, Dec 3, 2013

The term "low value, duplicative or wasteful investments" by OMB fails to recognize that old saying "Never put your eggs into one basket." OMB is trying to make efficient Science and R&D. You can only "engineer" well-known areas and even then you should provide space. There are many disasters because of too rigid designs and many near . EA is not perfect but works well in organized environment; whereas, in an environment subject to many unknowns, it pays to spread the risk. Trying to dictate EA in a R&D environment is a recipe for disaster. I don't work for NASA but I do empathize with them. Support systems should be efficent, but I have great doubt as to whether experimental program assets can ever be efficient and still acheive their mission.

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