Coast Guard gets tough on IT acquisition policies

More software monitoring systems and formal guidance are needed to keep the U.S. Coast Guard's Fleet Logistics System and other information technology projects in line, on time and on budget, according to recommendations delivered to the agency's chief information officer this week.

Rear Adm. George Naccara, Coast Guard CIO, said he hopes to act on the results of an internal audit of IT systems early next year. Naccara called for the review in January because FLS, which will help manage the Coast Guard's ships and boats, was not complying with acquisition guidelines set forth by the Clinger-Cohen Act.

"We'd spent a lot of money on FLS but we didn't have anything tangible," Naccara said. "We had a lot of different project managers, differing Coast Guard requirements and wavering budgetary support."

FLS is designed to aggregate all resources, equipment, costs and labor associated with supporting Coast Guard ships so that the agency can make informed decisions on future acquisitions, reduce inventory and manage its resources better. The Coast Guard has spent more than $40 million since the project started eight years ago with little tangible progress, Naccara said. The estimated cost has now reached about $50 million, he said.

The review team, led by Capt. Cliff Pearson, chief of communications systems for the Coast Guard, focused on software risk analysis, employing standards and mechanisms developed by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. The team identified risks in categories that included Coast Guard management support, requirements definitions and acquiring the right staffing with the right skills, Pearson said.

The team recommended that the Coast Guard continue to work with subcontractors on defining requirements and limiting requirement changes, Pearson said. The team also suggested the agency use incentives to keep people on a project rather than be lured away by other IT organizations.

The team also looked at issues that apply to other IT projects at the Coast Guard. Naccara will meet with the Coast Guard investment review board, which includes the agency's chief financial officer and resource board director in January.

"The real issue here is to establish something formal with a regularly scheduled oversight," Naccara said. "FLS was a good motivator to see the error in our ways when it comes to IT projects."

Other recommendations in the review:

A permanent team should be established to monitor and evaluate Coast Guard IT projects using a standard methodology, such as the software risk evaluation method used by the Software Engineering Institute for FLS.

The CIO should ensure that all IT projects establish a mechanism for monitoring risk.

The CIO should establish a guidance team that includes the office that sponsors the project and the acquisitions chief.

The CIO should establish a mechanism for capturing lessons learned from IT projects.

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