For the third evaluation in a row, the Department of Defense received a failing grade on its Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act scorecard, the only agency to do so in 2018.
According to Government Accountability Office Director of IT Management Issues Dave Powner, the reason for DoD’s poor scores ultimately comes down to transparency, or a lack thereof.
“DoD has historically has done their own thing and has not always participated and reported fully regarding their priority IT initiatives,” said Powner at a May 23, 2018, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. He added that while some secrecy is necessary for national security reasons, not all of the DoD’s IT priorities fall under that umbrella.
The DoD has also historically not attended hearings on the scorecards, much to the annoyance of congressmen on the Oversight Committee, but sent its newly arrived Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy, along with the agency’s CFO and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, to the Wednesday hearing.
“DoD’s failing score is due in part due to the lack of transparency it provides into the majority of its IT spend,” said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, characterizing the agency’s F+ score as “better than average failing.”
The DoD received an F in all but one category, the IT Dashboard evaluations, which received a D.
“There are many claims that DoD is exempt. The facts are that of FITARA’s seven major sections, two fully apply to DoD, one doesn’t, and the other four partially do,” said Powner.
In one evaluation category, the creation of working capital funds as authorized under the Modernizing Government Technology Act, the DoD failed to even respond to the committee’s requests for information on the subject.
The Office of Management and Budget’s IT dashboard, which collects data on governmentwide IT investment specifics and is used to calculate many of the grades on the scorecard, also does not receive all of DoD’s IT data.
“DoD is excluded from having post-investment information on the IT dashboard for national security systems, which makes sense. However, recently DoD reclassified about $15 billion of projects to that category in 2016, allowing an agency to avoid reporting this data,” said Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., adding that he was concerned that DoD used that classification too often.
Additionally, policy and legislation often makes allowances for the DoD to not participate, even when those allowances are unnecessary.
“Even the executive order last week gives DoD a pass, even though much of that order covers areas that DoD is required to follow under existing law,” said Powner.
In addition, the CIO still does not have the authority to veto any IT project he deems to be failing or faulty, as that authority ultimately rests with the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition. This limits the CIO authorities called for in both the Executive Order and the FITARA legislation.
That isn’t to say that DoD doesn’t intend to make progress on the FITARA categories in the coming months. Deasy told the committee that he plans on completing a full inventory of the DoD’s software by December 2018.
And according to Powner, the DoD’s commitment to move from data centers to the cloud will provide “great benefits to the warfighter.”
“Despite their low grades across the board, there has been progress on data center consolidation. DoD has closed over 225 large centers and plans to close an additional 360. Regarding their smaller centers, they’ve closed over 725 and are planning on an additional 834. So collectively, DoD plans to close over 2,000 data centers,” said Powner.
Deasy added that, as someone just coming in from the private sector, he views the evaluation categories from the scorecard as simply general good practice, regardless of whether the agency is being graded on them.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.