OMB should sharpen IT project analyses: GAO

With 79 high-risk IT projects totaling about $2.2 billion in danger of running behind schedule or failing, congressional watchdogs said the Office of Management and Budget needs to sharpen the tools it uses to oversee and monitor agency IT spending.

In a report, the Government Accountability Office said OMB should consolidate its quarterly at-risk reports of IT projects—something GAO recommended last year—with its broader management watch list to supplement its analyses of agency IT performance.

“By not maintaining a single list, OMB is not fully exploiting the opportunity to use the quarterly reports as a tool for analyzing high-risk projects on a governmentwide basis and is limiting its ability to identify and report on the full set of IT investments across government that requires special oversight and greater agency management attention,” the report says.

OMB currently uses two tools for tracking agency IT spending: its Management Watch list, which the administration started in fiscal 2004, and its high-risk quarterly reports, in which agencies identify mission-critical IT projects that are behind schedule and over budget.

This past March, agencies identified 226 IT investments considered high-risk, meaning they are mission-critical and their delay could cause significant business problems. Of that total, agencies reported that 79 projects experienced performance shortfalls because of cost and schedule variations.

But while watchlists and quarterly reports provide OMB with key data points on IT project progress, GAO said agencies are inconsistently applying the administration’s guidelines as to which programs should be included and are likely leaving several projects off the list.

“While agencies reported a significant number of projects as high risk, we identified other projects on which we have reported and testified that appear to meet one or more of OMB’s criteria for high-risk designation … but were not identified as high risk,” GAO said.

Also, by not consolidating the data into a single repository, OMB is limiting “its ability to identify and report on the full set of IT investments across the federal government that require special oversight and greater management attention,” GAO said.

Karen Evans, OMB administrator for E-Government and IT, disagreed with the need to create a single list, stating that the watch list and high-risk reports, while complementary, have distinct functions.

“[T]he intent of the policy is to ensure agency and oversight authority efforts result in improved execution and performance,” Evans said in a letter to GAO. “OMB uses the high-risk reports in the larger context of OMB’s budget and program oversight processes.”

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