Data errors: OMB's online IT dashboard doesn't compute

GAO audit reveals out-of-date information and project cost discrepancies in five of eight federal IT programs

The Office of Management and Budget’s online dashboard created to track federal information technology spending is marred by inaccuracies and out-of-date data, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

OMB deployed the IT dashboard Web site in June 2009 to provide greater visibility into an estimated $79 billion in annual federal IT spending. The dashboard offers descriptions of federal IT projects, as well as ratings of how the projects are performing against their cost and schedule targets.

However, a GAO examination of eight major federal IT programs found discrepancies. Five of the eight IT investments posted on the IT dashboard and examined by the GAO contained notable discrepancies in their cost ratings. The cost ratings are meant to grade how closely costs match projected expenses. But in many cases, the cost data is out of date.

Of those five programs with cost discrepancies, the Defense Department’s Joint Precision Approach and Landing System’s cost data was 645 days out of date, while the Justice Department’s Unified Financial Management System’s cost data was 314 days out of date, according to the report.

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The Homeland Security Department’s BioSense, the Agriculture Department's Financial Management Modernization Initiative and Justice’s Law Enforcement Wireless Communication also had cost-rating problems and outdated data on the dashboard, GAO said.

In addition, the IT dashboard presented the Law Enforcement Wireless Communication program as having a less than 5 percent variance in cost each month from July 2009 through January 2010. However, GAO discovered the variance was actually 10 percent to 15 percent.

“Accordingly, this investment’s cost performance should have been rated a ‘yellow’ instead of a ‘green,’ meaning it needed attention,” the GAO report said.

“It seems to be common practice for agencies to provide OMB and Congress with inaccurate and out of date information on whether their investments are on budget, on schedule, and performing as expected. This is simply unacceptable and needs to change,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) who requested the GAO study, said in a statement. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also requested the study.

GAO recommended that OMB review the effect of expected changes to the formula for calculating the cost ratings and develop guidance for standardizing the milestones. OMB officials agreed with the recommendations.

GAO, in a draft report, also made two other recommendations for improving the accuracy of the IT dashboard. It said the OMB has already dealt with those recommendations and implemented the improvements.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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