GAO Calls for Additional Oversight of O&M IT Dollars

photo_Stephanie-Sullivan_New_65x85by Stephanie Sullivan, Consultant

GAO was recently asked to find out which federal agencies analyze the performance of steady state investments in accordance with OMG guidance. GAO reviewed the five largest spenders on steady state systems in a report published in October 2012, but not posted online until November 15th, according to FierceGovernmentIT. The report investigated DOD, HHS, DHS, Treasury and the VA, which reported spending $4.6 billion annually on major steady state investments and compared their FY11 OAs to OMB criteria.

On a more comprehensive scale, the 26 key federal agencies that report to OMB on their IT investments reported spending approximately $79 billion on a wide variety of IT systems in FY11. Of this amount, agencies reported spending $54 billion on O&M for existing steady state investments; with $53 billion in speculated O&M spending in FY12.

Current OMB guidance calls for agencies to develop an operational analyses (OAs) policy and perform such analyses annually to ensure steady state investments continue to meet agency needs. The guidance also includes 17 key factors, which addresses areas such as:

  • Cost
  • Schedule
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Innovation

According to an article published by FierceGovernmentIT, GAO auditors found that DoD, Treasury and VA did not conduct the analyses while DHS and HHS had policies in place for their annual completion but didn’t always get around to doing them all. DHS analyzed 16 of their 44 steady state investments, while HHS managed to do seven of its eight steady state system analyses.

DOD and VA officials cited not completing analyses of their O&M IT investments because of the mandate to annually submit a business case for IT systems in the form of an Exhibit 300. OMB officials do not consider the Exhibit 300’s a substitute for the steady state analyses because a 300 does not require identifying alternatives or other matters, such as identifying lessons learned.

However, current OMB guidance does not provide mechanisms that ensure the OAs are completed and allow public transparency into the results of the assessments. GAO’s recommendations state that until agencies address these shortcomings, there is increased risk that these agencies will not know whether the multibillion dollar investments fully meet their intended objectives.

These concerns are becoming increasingly justified in lieu of growing IT budget cuts, with government agencies putting serious emphasis on cost savings,  eliminating redundancy, and increasing program efficiency.

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