IGs: IT and workforce woes plague multiple agencies

The first-ever report on governmentwide challenges from a group of Inspectors General found that management of IT systems and human capital are among the most frequently identified performance challenges facing agencies across government.

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In 2017, inspectors general governmentwide identified the top management and performance challenges facing agencies in 61 separate reports.

Now, for the first time, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency consolidated those recurring deficiencies into a single report that identifies the seven most frequently reported management challenges: IT security and management, performance and accountability, human capital, financial, procurement, facilities and grants.

The goal in consolidating the most common challenges across government, CIGIE states, is to make sure policymakers and program managers can explore and address these recurring issues.

IT security and management represent “a long-standing, serious, and ubiquitous challenge for federal agencies across the government, because agencies depend on reliable and secure IT systems to perform their mission-critical functions,” the report states. “The security and management of government IT systems remain challenges due to significant impediments faced by federal agencies, including resource constraints and a shortage of cybersecurity professionals.”

The report specifically calls out IT security deficiencies found by watchdogs at the Social Security Administration, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, as well as the Departments of Commerce, Justice and Defense.

Issues surrounding IT modernization -- such as the reduced system reliability, bloated costs and possible security risks posed by outdated IT systems -- are also tagged as a key area of concern among the IG community.

The report points to systems “three to four times older than industry standards” relied on by the IRS pose “significant risk of failures,” noting that when and how severe these failures could be are unknowns.

The report also points to infrastructure used by the Department of Justice’s Security Operations Center, “some of which is past its end of useful life and is no longer supported.”

Illustrating agencies’ difficulties in updating their systems, CIGIE cites the SSA IG’s findings that the agency spent $1.8 billion on IT, much of which went to maintaining existing systems.

The Department of Homeland Security’s IG found that slow performance of a prescreening system reduced customs officials’ ability to identify high-risk travelers and added that frequent network outages interrupted air and marine surveillance.

The report raises concerns about agencies' ability to maintain continuity of operations in the event of a cyber incident, specifically citing deficiencies in contingency planning at the Departments of Interior and State.

In order to address cybersecurity concerns, CIGIE notes the importance of a skilled workforce. The report attributes some of government’s workforce management challenges to funding and staffing shortages, struggles in recruiting, training and retaining qualified staff, plus insufficient succession planning and high turnover rates.

The report also cites agency cultures as possibly impacting mission and personnel management, specifically citing “ethical lapses, lack of accountability, lack of fiscal responsibility, lack of transparency and communication, resistance to change, and low morale” as impediments.

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