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FCW : March 15, 2015
The Government Accountability Office finally did it. “Improving the Manage- ment of IT Acquisitions and Opera- tions” is now on the High Risk List, and GAO’s latest report states that “federal IT investments too frequently fail to be completed or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes.” For those of us who were involved with items on the High Risk List, this is a significant development. During my government career, I dealt extensively with two items on the list: IRS modernization (now off the list) and the need to strengthen the Depart- ment of Homeland Security’s manage- ment functions. In both cases, there was intense congressional scrutiny, and significant attention shown by the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies that found their programs on the High Risk List. Although agencies always grouse about it, I have found that having a program on the High Risk List focus- es valuable attention and resources on systemic problems. One of the reasons for the grousing is that once a program is on the High Risk list, it is quite dif- ficult to remove it. The IRS spent more than a decade maturing its acquisition and program management, and along the way demonstrated improved capa- bilities to deliver successful programs, before finally coming off the list in 2014. And IT acquisition deserves that level of sustained attention. Deeply embedded cultural and skills issues must be addressed if we are to improve the government’s score card in deliver- ing IT programs. Those changes, while certainly doable, take sustained leader- ship over time to have a major positive impact. In reviewing GAO’s report, I was pleased to see that auditors document- ed a set of concrete evaluation criteria: • OMB and agencies should, within four years, implement at least 80 percent of GAO’s recommendations related to the management of IT acquisitions and operations. • Agencies should ensure that a mini- mum of 80 percent of the government’s major acquisitions deliver functionality every 12 months. • Agencies should achieve no less than 80 percent of the more than $6 billion in planned PortfolioStat savings, and 80 percent of the more than $5 billion in savings expected from data center consolidation. Those are high bars, but GAO is not asking for perfection. And the targets are specific enough that an administra- tion could drive action in each of the areas, set measurements and objectives by year, and track progress. The implied four-year time frame is aggressive but not impossible. I do not know our new federal CIO, Tony Scott. Having come to the govern- ment from the private sector myself, I admire him for wanting to step into government and help. Yet I know how daunting the learning curve is — core technologies and human nature might be the same, but there are significant differences between government and the private sector. My advice to Scott is simple: Start by focusing on the proper implementation of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act to strengthen CIOs’ authorities. If we have weak IT organizations, IT management will not improve. I also recommend focusing on addressing the three evaluation criteria listed above to set the foundation for removing federal IT acquisition from the High Risk List. Success will likely not be realized for years beyond Scott’s tenure. But he has a chance, even so late in this administration, to make a difference. n BY RICHARD A. SPIRES By putting the government’s management of IT acquisitions and operations on the High Risk List, GAO has ensured it will finally get the attention it deserves GAO brings the hammer down on IT acquisition CIOPerspective Richard A. Spires has been in the IT field for more than 30 years, with eight years in federal govern- ment service. Most recently, he served as CIO at the Department of Homeland Security. He is now CEO of Resilient Network Systems. 32 March 15, 2015 FCW.COM 0315fcw_032.indd 32 2/20/15 2:47 PM
March 30, 2015