IT Acquisition Added to 2015 GAO High Risk List


The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) High Risk List is released every two years and details federal programs that “merit concern ‘due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or are most in need of broad reform. The High Risk List has documented more than $40 billion in financial benefits and 866 other improvements related to high-risk areas.’” The list was released in February 2015, and this year the GAO added Improving the Management of IT Acquisitions and Operations to the list.





So why did IT Acquisition make the list that no federal program wants to be on? According to the GAO, “Although the executive branch has undertaken numerous initiatives to better manage the more than $80 billion that is annual invested in information technology (IT), federal IT investments too frequently fail or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes.”


The GAO went on to list a number of instances in which the government has “spent billions of dollars on failed IT investments.” This includes:


The Department of Defense’s Expeditionary Combat Support System – Failed to deploy after 5 years and more than $1 billion.


The Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative Network Program – Failed to deplou, more than $1 billion obligated.


A tri-agency weather satellite program – Terminated in 2010 after 16 years and $5 billion.


The GAO cited “a lack of disciplined and effective management, such as project planning, requirements definition, and program oversight and governance,” as reasons for the failed IT projects. It also cited the “big bang” approach, where projects are too broadly scoped and have a deployment date several years after initiation. “According to the Defense Science Board, this approach is often too long, ineffective, and unaccommodating of the rapid evolution of IT. Further, it is inconsistent with OMB guidance directing that IT investments delivery functionality in 6-month increments.” Only about 25% of investments selected by the GAO followed these OMB guidelines.


The GAO noted that while it had made “about 737” recommendations over the past 5 years concerning “shortcomings with IT acquisitions and operations…As of January 2015, about 23 percent of the 737 recommendations had been fully implemented.” The GAO also identified “nine critical factors underlying successful major acquisitions that support the objective of improving the management of large-scale IT acquisitions across the federal government.”


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