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OMB identifies 26 IT projects for closer scrutiny

Aug. 23, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra announced that today 26 "mission critical" IT projects that were previously halted for review will receive funding and move forward.
Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra announced that today 26 "mission critical" IT projects that were previously halted for review will receive funding and move forward. (Sheila Vemmer / Staff)

Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra announced Monday that 26 IT projects that have been halted for review will be considered as "high risk" and require more robust management plans and additional review before moving forward.

The projects span 15 federal agencies and exceed $30 billion in lifecycle costs, Kundra said in a call with reporters.

"This isn't about killing projects," Kundra said. "It's about making them run better and faster."

OMB on June 28 had halted further spending on all financial systems modernization projects and subjected them to a thorough review.

"Too many government IT projects cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than they should, take years longer than necessary to deploy, and deliver technologies that are obsolete by the time they are completed," said then-OMB Director Peter Orszag in a memo announcing the review.

One of the projects listed by OMB as high risk is a $7.6 billion effort to overhaul the IT infrastructure at the Interior Department, the most costly of the projects. Already, $500 million has been spent on the project alone this fiscal year.

Bernard Mazer, Interior's chief information officer said the project will, among other things, consolidate the department's 12 different e-mail systems that serve the department's various bureaus and offices.

At the Justice Department, $557 million will go toward its Sentinel case-management system. Two of the project's four phases have been completed, but not without cost and scheduling delays, said Vance Hitch, the Justice Department's CIO.

In addition, the Office of Personnel Management's project to automate its paper-based retirement processing system was also deemed high risk.

"We want to get the information out of the black box on how we calculate the retirement benefits awarded," said Matthew Perry, OPM's chief information officer.

The next step for these projects is that their managers will develop improvement plans over the next month. Those improvement plans should include details of projects risks, new contractor performance metrics and more rigorous project governance. Later this fall, those improvement plans will be reviewed by OMB in so-called "TechStat" review sessions as part of the 2012 budget process. Kundra said that even though these projects will be revised and proceed, they still could be cancelled in the future if they run off track.

Data from the Office of Management and Budget's IT Dashboard a website that tracks the performance of federal information technology projects was used to help determine the fate of the projects.

Kundra also denounced a culture of spending money simply because it's budgeted and cited the now-canceled VA financial modernization project as an example. The agency spent more than a decade and millions of dollars before canceling its Integrated Financial Accounting System program in July.

"Part of what we need to do is we need to end a culture in which we continue to throw good money after bad money," Kundra said.

One of the projects halted in June was cancelled: an estimated $400 million financial management modernization project at the Veterans Affairs Department called Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise.

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