GAO: More savings to be had in PortfolioStat

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Two reports from the Government Accountability Office suggest the government is not making the most of existing IT savings initiatives or its largest legacy investments.

One report highlights the inability of all but one of the 26 major federal agencies mandated to participate in the Office of Management and Budget-led PortfolioStat initiative to meet all the initiative's requirements.

In the other, GAO studied the 10 federal IT operations and maintenance projects with the largest 2012 budgets and the eight agencies that operate them. Together, they total approximately 10 percent of the federal government's $82 billion IT budget.

Problems in PortfolioStat

OMB created PortfolioStat in 2012 to examine agencies' entire IT portfolios through a face-to-face, evidence-based review, initially touting an expected savings of $2.5 billion by 2015.

However, GAO's latest report suggests that far more savings are available – potentially 200 opportunities totaling $5.8 billion by 2015 across the 26 agencies – but they won't be attained unless agencies take steps to improve PortfolioStat implementation.

GAO identified several weaknesses in a majority of agencies. Only the Department of Education met each of seven key requirements outlined by PortfolioStat, with the other 25, including Defense, Agriculture, Interior and Veterans Affairs, able to address only four requirements. GAO found common weaknesses shared by many agencies in its report:

  • Six reported limitations in their CIO's authority to review and approve the entire portfolio.
  • Five did not include all programs in their enterprise architecture (the agency's blueprint for operations), limiting their ability to identify candidates for consolidation or elimination.
  • Twelve reported challenges in ensuring the completeness of their commodity IT baseline data or did not identify a process to ensure its completeness.

In the report, OMB agreed with GAO's recommendation to require agencies to disclose limitations their CIOs might have exercising authorities that could hinder PortfolioStat success, but contended it had already addressed the issue by requiring agencies to provide enterprise roadmaps or information resource plans. However, OMB did not provide documentation to GAO to back up its claims.


OMB also disagreed with GAO's recommendation to require agencies to report on efforts to address PortfolioStat action plan elements in future OMB reports, and GAO's recommendation to improve overall transparency and accountability with PortfolioStat through disclosure of consolidation efforts and cost savings by agency.


E-mailed statements from Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel to GAO said the agency's recommendation for increased accountability "does not adequately account for the work it currently performs to ensure accountability for and transparency of the process through its quarterly reporting of identified savings to Congress." VanRoekel also suggested that "some details are deliberative or procurement sensitive and it would therefore not be appropriate to disclose them."


GAO, however, stood by its recommendations, asserting that increased accountability would improve Congress' insight into agencies' progress in reducing duplicative spending.


Little oversight for largest IT investments

Per OMB mandates, agencies are supposed to perform annual operational analysis, an oversight mechanism to ensure legacy investments continue to meet agency needs. However, GAO found only one of the 10 largest operations and maintenance programs – the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection infrastructure, which cost $529 million in 2012 – was subject to an operational analysis.

The two largest O&M IT projects, DOD's Defense Information System Network and its Next Generation Enterprise Network, cost taxpayers upwards of $3.2 billion in 2012, yet no operational analysis was done on either.

The departments of Energy, Health and Human Services and Treasury, NASA and the Social Security Administration all failed to conduct operational analysis on legacy investments they spent more than $250 million or more on in 2012. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $1.5 billion in 2012 on medical and enterprise IT support that failed to receive a single operational analysis.

Agencies attributed reliance on budget submission and related management performance reviews as reasons for not conducting the required operational analysis.

"Until the agencies ensure their operational investments are assessed, there is a risk that they will not know whether these multibillion dollar investments fully meet intended objectives," the report states.

Despite GAO's persistent investigations, including several that recently documented the government wasting an estimated $9.2 billion on failed IT investments, agencies seem lukewarm about complying with its recommendations. Of the seven agencies GAO recommended to perform the required operational analysis on these investments, three agreed, two partially agreed and two didn't respond.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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