IT central to challenges facing Justice
Despite some progress, many major information technology projects at the Justice Department remain at risk in terms of cost, schedule and performance, according to the inspector general’s annual review of the department’s management and performance challenges.
In addition to listing IT systems planning, implementation and security as one of Justice’s top 10 management challenges, IT plays prominently in several other areas of the report, released Nov. 15. For example, ongoing projects to boost IT systems were crucial to improving information sharing among law enforcement and intelligence agencies — another of the challenges the IG identified in the report, which was based on recent IG audits.
Regarding IT, the IG is concerned that Justice’s chief information office lacks enough control over component agencies that struggle with IT systems. In addition, the office needs the authority to hire for critical positions, complete of system requirements and oversee contract administration, the report states.
Furthermore, the IG’s office is also concerned that the department does not adequately track IT projects’ costs and relies excessively on contractors to develop, monitor and run internal department systems. The report cites an audit of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center that identified contractors as performing a significant portion of the program’s information system management and data analysis.
But the IG praised the FBI — often criticized for its IT systems development and management — for making significant improvements.
“One [Justice] component in particular that appears to be learning from past mistakes is the FBI,” the report states. “Over the past several years, the FBI has instituted better IT management processes and controls through its Life Cycle Management Directive. Continuity in both the FBI’s [chief information officer] position and its project management staff — a huge problem in failed previous efforts — also has stabilized.”
Despite the advances, the report notes, antiquated IT systems have impeded the FBI’s counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering efforts, and the bureau will not have a fully functional case management system for at least two years.
Furthermore, Justice also provides unreliable information on the cost of its IT systems to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and senior managers. The IG said such reporting is “fragmented, uses inconsistent methodologies and lacks control procedures necessary to ensure that cost data for IT systems is accurate and complete.”
Recent audits also found that some IT projects for systems involving financial management and litigation case management are in danger of failing. For example, the Integrated Wireless Network project, intended to improve communication among law enforcement officials at different agencies, has already cost $200 million in six years.
“In sum, if the department is to build on the advances it has made in IT systems planning, implementation and security, it must closely manage these projects to ensure the systems are cost-effective, well-run, secure and successful in achieving their objectives,” the report states.
According to the report, Justice’s top 10 management and performance challenges are:
- Restoring confidence in the department.
- Financial management and systems.
- Grant management.
- Violent crime.
- Detention and incarceration.
- Sharing intelligence and law enforcement information.
- IT systems planning, implementation and security.
- Civil rights and civil liberties.
Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.