OMB wants to know how agencies manage risky IT projects

Agency officials will have to justify renewed funding for troubled projects

Agencies now will have to prove to the Office of Management and Budget they can effectively manage their high-risk IT projects, federal CIO Vivek Kundra has announced.

Agency officials must find the IT projects with the highest risks, then develop plans to improve them and then present those plans to Kundra at TechStat accountability meetings, according to a memo he released today.

Kundra expects to have these detailed reviews of roughly 25 to 30 IT projects across the government. These plans and what Kundra gathers from TechStat are part of the fiscal 2012 budget formulation process, according to his memo.

The improvement plans will justify to OMB officials whether  projects should continue to be funded or be cancelled. Kundra wants to know that an agency can reasonably reduce a project’s risk with a proper scope for the project. Officials will have to define clear results and outcomes that serve the agency’s core mission.

Kundra also wants “a stronger governance structure with explicit executive sponsorship,” according to the memo. “Projects which do not meet these criteria will not be continued,” he added.

Nonetheless, Kundra said everything is on the table when officials look for ways to turn around high-risk projects .

“Agency heads and CIOs at agencies are going to have to make sure that we’re not continuing the practices of the past,” he said.

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As examples of failed IT projects, Kundra offered up three illustrations: The Veterans Affairs Department this month ended its  $400 million Financial and Logistic Integrated Technology Enterprise modernization program for the second time since 1998; The Defense Department’s attempt to build a departmentwide integrated human resources system, for which DOD spent $1 billion  over 12 years, before canceling it; and the FBI’s Virtual Case File project, which the bureau launched because of a contractor's faulty system.

“Ultimately, no one wins when IT projects fail,” Kundra said. “Contractors don’t win, because they’re judged on past performance. The federal agencies don’t win from a project management perspective because we’re not employing the capabilities that we need. And most of all, the American taxpayers don’t win when we waste billions of dollars in IT projects.”

As it stands, Kundra has scheduled meetings with 27 departments and agencies from Aug. 2 to Aug. 18, according to a schedule included in the memo.

This guidance follows the memo issued by OMB Director Peter Orszag in June to reform the government’s efforts to manage IT projects, a part of President Barack Obama’s Accountable Government Initiative.


About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Fri, Jul 30, 2010 Harry Hobbes State Government out West

Kudos to Mr. Kundra. Hopefully, Mr. Kundra will become the role model to those eager, agile, and proactive government employees (of all ages and dispositions) who believe in "service" to the folks that pay the bills; that is, believe in ensuring value for tax dollar collected. Service, which implies accountability, is what they pay for; and this move is in the right direction to ensure their tax dollars are…shall we say, less squandered. With a $13 Trillion debt, growing at a rate of $1.4 Trillion per year, this becomes important. (The Goose laying the Golden Eggs is now pretty anemic.) But what's in it for the poor IT person(s) in the agencies? Other than more work, "hoops," and taking a personal risk of accountability? Perhaps building value in one's personal capabilities by learning the business of governance (as differentiated from picking products) will be needed to get the mission accomplished within that $13T+ debt environment. The critical skills and capability will be the performance of the core business functions that are universal to accomplishing missions in a tight budget environment: capital planning, investment control, et al. This is the essence of "governance." By promulgating this move, it appears that Mr. Kundra is (among other things) opening up career opportunities to those employees who wish to learn governance of the IT commodity. (And he's using an indirect approach at that.) This is an example of leadership. Kudos, Mr. Kundra. Best regards, Harry P.S. Matthew: How are "announced" and "illustrations" spelled?

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