GAO criticizes HUD's largest computer system

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's largest computer system has major design flaws, and the agency should consider replacing it, a General Accounting Office official told Congress today.

The Integrated Disbursement Information System, developed largely in-house by HUD programmers, is not providing the information needed to help HUD run its Grants Management System, which disburses about $6 billion in grants annually, or about one-quarter of HUD's budget.

IDIS does not ensure that the Grants Management System's objectives are being met and that grantees are appropriately managing the government money they receive, said Stanley J. Czerwinski, associate director of resources in GAO's economic division.

Czerwinski's report identified four problems with IDIS, among them its inability to separate different types of funds, the need for grant recipients to enter data multiple times and no requirement that grant recipients enter performance information before receiving funds.

"The design flaws that we point out can be summed up in HUD failing to have users involved sufficiently in the design from the beginning," Czerwinski told the Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Cardell Cooper, assistant secretary for community planning and development at HUD, defended IDIS, saying there has been no problem with the system's financial disbursement role, which is its primary function.

Cooper also said HUD has mounted a major effort to correct the problems in IDIS, which has been in use since February 1996 and which grew to 8,500 users in September 1998 before HUD stopped adding new users.

HUD already has corrected some of the problems, under a stabilization plan developed by HUD's Office of Information Technology. That plan is based on a list of all known issues and problems. The plan categorizes software and data stabilization items into high-, medium- or low-priority groups. Cooper said HUD's final deadline for implementing all the changes is Sept. 30.

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