Senate panel faults agency IT efforts

A Senate panel report card showed that half of major agencies failed to effectively plan and implement their information technology projects in fiscal 2008, putting billions of dollars at potential risk.

Those agencies oversee $57 billion in IT investments, which accounts for 81 percent of the federal IT budget, said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee. The passing agencies account for $13 billion, or 19 percent, of the IT budget, he said at a subcommittee hearing July 31.  

The baselines that agencies use to track the progress of their IT projects’ cost and schedule plans, which are submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, often are inaccurate, the Government Accountability Office said. Agencies re-baseline 48 percent of their IT projects, some multiple times, said David Powner, GAO’s director of IT management issues.

Having to redo the baseline calculations “should not be used to mask schedule and cost overruns,” he said in testimony and in a report that details agencies’ project shortfalls and baseline changes.
Agencies need more guidance from OMB on policies for revising baselines, incorporating best practices and requiring validation of new baselines, Powner said. 

The agencies that received a failing grade include the Agriculture and Defense departments. But a high grade was no guarantee of progress, Carper said. The Housing and Urban Development Department received a top score because it reported that every project was on schedule and cost. Yet, HUD re-baselined one project seven times.

Carper and committee chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced legislation that would require agencies to report regularly on significant cost, schedule and performance changes. It would also assemble a team of skilled experts, an IT Strike Force, that agencies could use, Carper said.

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