GAO: Homeland Security reviews IT slowly

The Homeland Security Department has problems reviewing major information technology projects in a timely manner, according to a General Accounting Office report released today.

"Accordingly, DHS continues to face challenges in providing robust and constructive oversight of component agency IT investments," said the GAO report. "A significant challenge remaining is determining the current status and upcoming major milestones of IT investments subject to departmental review in order to schedule timely control reviews."

DHS officials have identified 100 high-priority IT projects. DHS has three department-level investment boards, including the 12-member investment review board, which reviews all capital investments more than $50 million, among other criteria; the management review council consisting of the chief information officer, chief financial officer and chief procurement officer, who review contracts ranging from $5 million to $50 million; and a five-member enterprise architecture board that reviews projects with annual costs of $1 million to $5 million.

GAO auditors said DHS' IT officials are requesting information about the top-level investments from the department's 22 component agencies and bureaus. The data can be used to develop a master milestone calendar to ensure the department is reviewing high-priority IT investments in a timely manner. That way, officials can make changes to projects or end them if they see fit.

Moreover, DHS' CIO said the department's CIO Council is developing a peer review process for major IT projects. That's expected to include a lifecycle management process and a quarterly reporting process, both scheduled to be instituted by the end of this month, the report said.

The GAO report looked at the implementation and effects of two Office of Management and Budget memos issued in July 2002 before DHS was formed. Those memos instructed agencies to temporarily stop funding new IT projects valued at more than $500,000 and submit information on current or planned investments to OMB.

The investment review group critiqued five IT projects submitted by four component agencies and recommended all of them with certain conditions. For example, the Secret Service requested a search engine that would conduct database searches agencywide. The project was approved as long as other DHS entities were included in the procurement.

It's unclear how much was saved because OMB did not track savings, GAO said. DHS has since established a mechanism to track savings from the consolidation and integration of systems.

OMB's memorandums had beneficial effects. For example, DHS officials said the Secret Service project cost several million dollars less than other approaches might have, although GAO officials could not verify that assertion.

And the investment review group evolved into the department's CIO Council, which is responsible for developing and managing information resources and telecommunications management. The group gave DHS a head start on operations from day one by using the former Immigration and Naturalization Services' network backbone for the entire department.

Also, the department's IT officials said the OMB memos helped the department with its long-term IT planning, including the creation of its enterprise architecture.

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