IT projects at high risk of paperwork

When it comes to big-ticket information technology projects, it turns out that failure is an option after all, but one that comes with a lot of paperwork.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra is stepping up pressure on agencies to identify and take control of IT projects that have a high risk of failure — or pull the plug on them in short order.

In a July 28 memo, Kundra directs agencies to identify their highest-risk IT projects, then develop plans to improve them. Agency officials must present those plans to Kundra at so-called TechStat accountability meetings, an intensive review process that uses performance metrics collected as part of the Obama administration’s IT Dashboard.

In effect, agency officials are being asked to justify continued funding for troubled programs by making the case that they can get a project back on track in terms of scope, cost and/or schedule. This is not paperwork for the sake of paperwork, Kundra said. Programs that do not show signs of improvement are likely to be halted temporarily or canceled.

Kundra expects to have detailed reviews of 25 to 30 IT projects. The plans and any information gathered during TechStat meetings will be grist for the mill when it comes to putting together the fiscal 2012 budget request.

The Obama administration is trying to make some headway on the growing list of troubled IT projects. The number of projects on the Office of Management and Budget’s watch list, which dates to 2004, more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office. The 585 projects on the 2009 list account for approximately 38 percent of the federal IT projects, the report states.

However, OMB Director Peter Orszag has offered beleaguered agency officials a glimmer of hope. His office has a small pot of money available for agencies looking to fund evaluations of their high-risk projects. They just need to fill out some paperwork.

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