GOP bird dogging OPM's IT upgrade

Jason Chaffetz

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz says OPM is ignoring "serious concernts" about its giant modernization project.

Congressional Republicans aren’t letting up on the Office of Personnel Management.

In a Sept. 14 statement, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz continued to push OPM to address concerns about its troubled modernization project.

“OPM continues to ignore serious concerns about their IT infrastructure improvement plan from the Inspector General,” the Utah Republican wrote, pointing to a Sept. 3 memo from OPM IG Patrick McFarland and accusing OPM of “refus[ing] to heed warnings” from McFarland’s office.

Chaffetz’s statement came less than a week after Information Technology Subcommittee Chairman Will Hurd (R-Texas) pledged forward-looking scrutiny of OPM this fall.

“Ignoring the IG’s warnings largely got them into this mess in the first place,” Chaffetz added. “If OPM wants to regain the trust of Congress and the American people, they must make implementing the IG’s recommendations a top priority.” 

McFarland called for a flash audit of OPM’s IT overhaul back in June, citing serious reservations and the fact that OPM CIO Donna Seymour hadn’t even told him about the project at first.

The partially redacted Sept. 3 letter from McFarland’s office, following up months later, is damning.

“There is no doubt that the migration (which in many cases will include redesigning fundamentally flawed security architectures) of up to 400 major and minor applications will be a highly complex and costly endeavor, yet OPM has no funding for this effort [emphasis IG’s],” the letter noted.

The letter also criticized OPM’s failure to complete an Office of Management and Budget Major IT Business Case for its IT infrastructure overhaul, a migration of systems to a new “shell” environment.

The IG letter said OPM dismissed the OMB business case as too time-consuming and expensive, a dismissal the IG’s office characterized as bad management.

In a Sept. 9 letter, OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert responded to McFarland’s recommendations and said that, after initially dismissing the OMB business case plan, OPM had decided to submit the plan to OMB as part of the fiscal 2017 budget process.

“Although OPM has been working closely with OMB throughout the development of the [IT overhaul] Project, we agree that there are benefits to preparing a Major IT Business Case, including heightened transparency as well as the value of these established project management processes,” Cobert wrote.

Cobert noted the IG’s concern over OPM’s use of a sole-source contract for significant portions of the overhaul work, and stressed that the sole-source award (to contractor Imperatis) only covers a “limited” portion of the total work.

Cobert also noted she has been having biweekly meetings with McFarland.

Funding could remain the biggest source of tension. Cobert’s Sept. 9 letter did not address money and McFarland’s office has savaged OPM for dramatically underestimating the project’s costs.

“When asked about [the lack of funding for overhaul migration work], OPM officials informed us that funding for migration costs would come from a combination of savings generated by discontinuing obsolete software and from program office budgets, including OPM’s trust funds and the revolving fund,” McFarland’s Sept. 3 memo noted. “In our view, there is no evidence to support this plan, and it is inadequate and inappropriate.”

But Chaffetz’ office isn’t focused on funding alone.

“We would say it’s not [the biggest problem],” said Chaffetz’ spokesperson MJ Henshaw, noting that until project management is worked out, allocating funds could just be throwing good money at a doomed endeavor.

“The Sept 9 memo I think is encouraging,” Henshaw added. “We’re happy that they [Cobert and McFarland] are talking to each other.”

But, she noted, the committee’s investigation into OPM’s IT overhaul is far from over, and could be the focus of hearings this fall.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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