GAO: E-gov projects don’t make their case

The Office of Management and Budget and the General Accounting Office are at odds over what constitutes a complete IT business case.

And the disagreement highlights a bigger problem plaguing OMB’s 25 e-government projects: finding adequate funding.

OMB does not have all the information needed to fully monitor the progress and development of the 25 Quicksilver initiatives, GAO concluded last month in a report for Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.).

Many business cases were missing features that usually would be included in comparable commercial reviews—such as collaboration strategies, customer needs, risk mitigation strategies and funding strategies, GAO said in its report, Electronic Government: Selection and Implementation of the Office of Management and Budget's 24 Initiatives.

Mark Forman, OMB associate director for IT and e-government, refuted GAO’s contention: “GAO is working off an inaccurate benchmark here. We used a commercial e-strategy best-practices approach. This is the same approach that is in the key textbooks for e-strategy.”

Forman’s rebuttal came after OMB officials provided GAO with oral comments and “generally agreed with the facts, conclusions and recommendations,” the GAO report said.

Estimated costs changed

“The work and funding plans needed more accurate cost, schedule and performance metrics,” said Linda Koontz, GAO director of information management issues. “When we followed up several months later with the agencies, we found that the estimated cost for 12 of the 24 initiatives had changed significantly. We are concerned about the lack of accurate cost information.”

Of the 24 projects GAO analyzed, 11 project leaders did not specify at least part of their funding source for fiscal 2002 and 10 did not have information for some funding this year. The total unspecified funding for both years totaled more than $292 million, including more than $249 million this year.

For 2003, two projects with the largest needs are the General Services Administration’s Integrated Acquisition Project and the Office of Personnel Management’s E-Payroll initiative. GSA needs to find $54 million, and OPM did not specify a source for more than $50 million, GAO said.

Some of this information, however, could come out in the president’s 2004 budget, Koontz said.
GAO lacks some information because it did not review any internal budget documents, Forman said. OMB would not release documents for undecided funding.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is also concerned over potential funding shortfalls, said Kevin Landy, a counsel to the committee. “It does appear to be a problem that agencies failed to identify sources of funding as the initiatives were being formulated and implemented.”

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