Inspectors general fault feds' cost accounting, monitoring

Federal agencies are putting their computer systems at risk because they account poorly for the maintenance of their software according to a report by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency a group of government inspectors general.

In a study of five agencies PCIE concluded that in general they did not properly track software maintenance costs had lax procedures for monitoring contracts for such work and did not adequately manage software changes or configuration management procedures.

As a result the report said agencies cannot make "informed...decisions regarding systems operations and maintenance " although the government spent $2 billion to $5.6 billion on software maintenance in fiscal 1995. In addition the report said agencies rely too much on contractors and are unable to ensure that their software applications work as intended.

Among its recommendations the report said agencies could solve part of their problem by using performance-based contracts that hold vendors more accountable for the work they do.

PCIE based its report on audits completed over the past two years of software maintenance procedures at the Department of Housing and Urban Development the State Department the Environmental Protection Agency NASA the National Science Foundation the Railroad Retirement Board and the Social Security Administration. Of those agencies SSA did not make any recommendations for improvement and another agency unidentified in the report said its procedures were adequate.

Ed Densmore team leader with the EPA's Inspector General's Office which put together the report said little had apparently changed in any of the agencies since they published their individual audit reports because officials did not suggest any major changes to a draft of the report circulated last summer.

Although the report does not draw any conclusions about the government in general Densmore said "we do feel [it] is representative of the government." Agencies that participated in the study were volunteers.

PCIE said the Office of Management and Budget can help agencies improve their procedures by:* Enforcing federal accounting and cost-benefit analysis procedures.* Emphasizing that agencies should use performance-based contracts and train officials how to monitor vendors' work.* Encourage agencies to follow federal software maintenance standards and procedures including putting all change requests in writing and testing any changes that are made.

Densmore said OMB planned to circulate the report to the Chief Information Officers Council and agency heads. Guidelines released as part of OMB Circular A-11 earlier this year include maintenance costs in their justifications for systems purchases - something PCIE found agencies do not always do.

Meanwhile the Office of Federal Procurement Policy is developing guidelines for agencies to develop new systems maintenance contracts that are based on vendor performance.

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