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GAO: Billions spent on IT, but effectiveness is unclear

Nov. 19, 2012 - 03:00PM   |  

Federal agencies are spending billions of dollars on legacy information technology systems without fully understanding if those systems are meeting their needs, according to a recent government report.

A review of 75 major IT systems, totaling $4.6 billion in annual operations and maintenance costs, found that agencies had not properly examined the effectiveness of more than half of those legacy investments in terms of cost, schedule and performance goals, as required by the Office of Management and Budget, according to an October report released last week by the Government Accountability Office.

“Until agencies more completely address their policy and performance shortcomings, there is increased risk that existing multibillion-dollar investments will continue to be funded although it is not fully known whether they meet their intended objectives,” the report said.

GAO examined major IT investments at the Homeland Security, Defense, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs and Treasury departments, which spent a combined $37 billion on IT operations and maintenance in 2011. Overall IT spending governmentwide for that year was $79 billion.

“The fact that a number of agencies are failing to properly assess these investments during this key phase is troubling,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on federal financial management, in a statement. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and information technology investments are no exception.”

OMB guidance requires agencies to report annually on the performance of their IT systems, in terms of cost, customer satisfaction and innovation. But GAO said such reporting varies.

At DHS, 28 of its 44 legacy IT investments reviewed by GAO, did not undergo annual operational analyses, which are key to assessing performance of IT investments, the GAO report said.

DoD, VA and Treasury have not developed operational analyses policies and do not conduct these OMB-required assessments.

GAO said that while OMB requires agencies to perform operational analyses on their major IT systems, it fails to ensure that they are actually done or that the results are made publicly available.

The agencies reviewed by GAO agreed to develop policies requiring that legacy systems undergo performance assessments and to ensure assessments are done for all legacy investments.

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