GAO: IT projects need financial makeover

The General Accounting Office told Congress last week that the Transportation Department must improve the way it buys and accounts for costs on information technology projects.

John Anderson Jr. director of transportation issues resources community and the Economic Development Division at GAO said there are serious management acquisition and financial issues that DOT needs to face.

Anderson testifying before a Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation hearing said the "solutions require a commitment from the highest levels of the department so that the change can be manifested throughout the department."

DOT must put into place better investment management and system acquisition proc-esses as well as better cost accounting Anderson said. The Federal Aviation Administration must change its culture so that employees become committed to mission focus and accountability and they must address long-term financing of programs he said.

One of the major problems the department needs to address is air traffic control management Anderson said. ATC systems have "long proceeded" without a complete systems architecture which has led to cost overruns among other problems. The FAA should develop and enforce an architecture to guide its computer software and hardware purchases and should improve its software acquisition processes which Anderson described as ad hoc.

Improvements also are needed so that Intelligent Transportation Systems are deployed successfully. DOT must solve many problems and overcome obstacles including the limited technical expertise among state and local officials before it can "aggressively pursue a large-scale deployment program " Anderson said. The department also must address its information resources and database management problems which are exacerbated by the Year 2000 software issue.

Sen. John McCain chairman of the committee asked whether the modernization of the air traffic control system will succeed because "ever since I have been in Congress there have been problems."

Raymond DiCarli acting inspector general at DOT said some recent changes such as the creation of independent product teams and the FAA's decision to use commercial off-the-shelf products have been good but the FAA must do more.

According to DOT however improvements in IT management have been made and problems are being addressed. The FAA's Acquisition Management System which was formed last year after Congress freed the agency from traditional procurement regulations allows the FAA to pre-qualify vendors and test potential equipment before awarding a contract said Mortimer Downey deputy secretary of DOT. This has improved the procurement process through tighter cost and schedule management and greater use of COTS.

DiCarli said he is "very skeptical" as to whether the system "will be adequate" because the FAA's procurement problems in the past have been "related to its inability to identify its needs and to clearly specify in the contractual documents what the requirements were " he said.

In general the problems cited by GAO and the IG are not new Downey said. "The Clinger-Cohen Act was enacted to address these kinds of...shortcomings " he said. "We now have formalized the chief information officer organization within the department with a reporting link to [Transportation] Secretary [Rodney] Slater."

The department is searching for a CIO who will establish performance-based processes for technology purchases Downey added. "I am very optimistic that through the CIO the department will see stronger management of all aspects of the department's information technology program " he said.

DOT is nearing completion of the first draft of its strategic plan and will start discussions with Congress this month. "We are confident that this plan and our fiscal 1999 budget will show significant progress toward identification of the outcomes we seek...and of how we use our resources to achieve those outcomes " he said.

DOT also is making progress in fixing the Year 2000 problem Downey said. The FAA for example "has a strong program in place" and will complete an assessment of a portion of the ATC system in June.

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