GAO Highly Critical of Administration For Wasteful IT Procurement

The Government Accountability Office has painted a dismal portrait of the current state of information technology procurement in federal agencies despite years of recommending improvements to the system, exposing in a new report billions of dollars wasted on top-heavy contracts and lackluster modernization efforts.
Cost overruns, poor management and deadline woes have afflicted 178 of the government’s 738 major IT investments as of May 2015, an amount worth approximately $8.7 billion, the watchdog agency said in its report released on Wednesday.
“The federal government invests more than $80 billion annually in IT, but many of these investments fail to meet cost and schedule expectations or make significant contributions to mission-related outcomes,” the GAO said. “This underperformance of federal IT projects can be traced to a lack of disciplined and effective management and inadequate executive-level oversight.” (Credit GAO).
While government waste in the IT acquisition area is by no means a revelation, federal agencies have been slow, if not idle, in enacting meaningful internal reforms to help modernize and oversee projects, according to the GAO, who said only 23 percent of the 737 recommendations it has issued to the administration since 2009 have been implemented.
The GAO report identified several areas “urgently” needing reform, including the consolidation of federal data centers, an effort the office estimate will save the government $6.3 billion in the coming years. In order to effectively carry out the consolidations, the GAO said, agencies must “provide for greater transparency and oversight.”(Credit GAO).
Speaking on behalf of the GAO to House lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday, David A. Powner, the office’s director of information technology management issues, expressed similar frustration at the slow pace of change within the IT acquisition space.
“We spend nearly 75 percent of IT dollars on operational legacy systems, leaving far too little to modernize the federal government,” Powner told members of an oversight subcommittee. “We need to find ways to shift these dollars towards acquiring new technologies and further performance.” (Credit AP).
Echoing the GAO report’s conclusion, Powner said he was hopeful that the newly enacted Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, will help steer the IT procurement system back on course.
Among other things, the new law gives more budget authority and responsibility to federal agency chief information officers where before CIO’s had little opportunities to make executive decisions over IT contracts that were far behind schedule or over budget.
“It’s going to attract a better breed of CIOs into the federal government,” Powner said of the provision. (Credit AP).
One of the most publicized IT flubs came in December 2012, when the Department of Defense cancelled a project for a logistics system for the Air Force after spending more than $1 billion. The Air Force, through its prime contractor Virginia-based Computer Sciences Corp., failed to deploy the system within five years of receiving the funds.
More recently, the Department of Homeland Security’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has poured an additional half-billion dollars into what was originally a $2.1 billion project to transition to a completely electronic system after casting doubt they could meet all of the capabilities of the project.
The report lists several other problem-saddled projects, including the Department of Transportation’s $15 billion to $22 billion “Next Generation Air Transportation System” to replace the Federal Aviation Administration’s ground-based system. According to the GAO, the DOT has “significantly increased the number, cost, and complexity of FAA’s acquisition programs.” (Credit GAO).