GAO: OMB's definition of IT investments is too broad

The Office of Management and Budget needs to be clearer in its guidance on what counts as IT investments and demand more information from agencies on what they are doing to cut down on duplicative IT spending, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO report said OMB’s current guidance to agencies on how to report on their IT investments isn't clear about how agencies should identify duplicative investments. The guidance also provides an overly broad definition of IT investments, which has resulted in agencies having different opinions on what counts as one, the report said.


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For example, some agencies often consider investments in research and development systems as IT. Others -- such as the Transportation, Commerce and Homeland Security departments – said they do not always include such systems. 

Because of this difference in interpreting what counts as an IT investment, 26 federal agencies’ yearly IT investments could reach beyond the $79 billion reported in 2011. Until OMB spells out its requirement that agencies should report on all IT investments, the report said, its estimates of federal IT investments will be “significantly understated.”

OMB’s current guidance also requires each investment to be mapped to a single functional category, which restricts the agency in spotting duplicative investments because similar investments could fall into different categories, the report said. To solve that problem, OMB should make it easier for agencies to categorize IT investments, GAO said.

Although OMB and federal agencies have launched efforts to address potentially duplicative systems but most of these initiatives have yet to show results, the report said. The agencies evaluated by GAO fail to regularly assess legacy systems to determine if they are duplicative and can be eliminated or merged.

“Until OMB and federal agencies consistently target potentially duplicative investments within and across agencies, federal agencies may continue to spend taxpayer funds developing systems that perform similar functions,” the report concluded.


 

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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