Sunday, April 24, 2005

Report Criticizes OMB Oversight of IT Projects
Report Criticizes OMB Oversight of IT Projects

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page E05

The Office of Management and Budget has not done enough to oversee $22 billion worth of critical federal information technology projects that it previously flagged as deficient, according to a government report set for release today.

The Government Accountability Office report, which will be the subject of a House Committee on Government Reform hearing this morning, says that the OMB placed 621 information technology investments for this fiscal year -- more than half of all major IT projects -- on a special "management watch list" because of weaknesses in areas such as performance, management and security. However, the report concludes that the OMB never actually compiled the projects and their problems in a comprehensive list, and that it failed to create a uniform system for following up on whether the problems were solved.

As a result, the report said "there is an increased risk that remedial actions were incomplete and that billions of dollars were invested in IT projects with planning and management deficiencies."

The report comes at a time of burgeoning demand for updated computer systems in the federal government, particularly in areas such as defense, intelligence and homeland security. President Bush's proposed 2006 budget designated about $65 billion for 1,087 IT projects. Of those, the OMB designated 342 projects, budgeted at about $15 billion, for an updated watch list.

The report noted that because of a lack of follow-up, the OMB could not explain precisely why the number of watch-list projects dropped from 621 for this fiscal year to 342 in the next.

Karen Evans, OMB administrator for electronic government and information technology, said in an e-mail response yesterday that while the OMB ultimately oversees major IT investments, the task of day-to-day monitoring lies with individual government departments. "Managing and measuring project performance is first and foremost an agency responsibility," she said. Evans is scheduled to testify at today's hearing, as are the chief information officers of several agencies.

Previous government reviews and reports have said that many of the agencies are failing in their attempts to apply new technologies and modernize outdated computer systems. A report card issued in February by the government reform committee, which is chaired by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), gave the government as a whole a D-plus for computer security. Several major government departments -- including health and human services, energy, and homeland security -- received Fs.

With the government's appetite rising for effective technology, it has been relying increasingly on the private sector to design, build and implement sophisticated computer networks, even as the portion of the federal workforce responsible for overseeing contracts has been shrinking.

"The procurements are becoming larger and more complex and involving more competition with multiple awardees," said Tom Sisti, vice president for law and policy at Washington Management Group, a government contracts consulting firm. Sisti said that while the government has done more lately to identify problems with its IT projects, "the missed opportunity here is that the government appears to be facing some challenges doing a systematic assessment of how well it's buying and implementing IT."

Committee spokesman Drew Crockett said in a statement that the OMB deserves credit for developing a watch list in the first place, but the committee "wants to ensure that tax dollars are not being spent on IT projects before their weaknesses have been addressed."