Government caught exaggerating IT reform progress

Be it a matter of perspective or different terminology, the Federal Government's IT reform plan is not meeting its expectations.
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

The federal government IT reform plan proposed in 2010, which includes the much talked-about consolidation of government datacenters, actually has 10 points that the OMB believes define success (derived from the original 25-point plan), broken into two categories; achieving operational efficiency and effectively managing large-scale IT projects. The entire plan is scheduled to be completed by this June. But a recent report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) states that despite the OMB claiming that seven of the 10 points have been achieved, the reality is that only three of the points have been fully completed.

The GAOs's assessment of the status of key action items in the reform plan disagrees that the following items, marked by the OMB as completed, are actually finished (quoted directly from their report):

Complete detailed implementation plans to consolidate at least 800 datacenters by 2015

In 2011, agencies published their updated consolidation plans and identified dedicated program managers for their data center consolidation efforts. Also, OMB established across-government task force comprised of the agency program managers that meets monthly and launched a public dashboard for tracking progress in closing data centers. However, not all of the agencies' updated data center consolidation plans include the required elements. Of the three agencies we reviewed, one (the Department of Justice) lacked required milestones and targets for servers and utilization. In addition, in

February 2012, we reported finding similar gaps in multiple agencies' consolidation plans. When asked why the plans were not yet complete, agencies reported that it takes time to adequately plan for data center consolidation and many found that they need more time. We have previously recommended that agencies complete the missing elements from their data center consolidation plans.

Shift to cloud-first policy

The Federal CIO published a strategy for moving the government to cloud computing and had each agency identify three services to be moved to the cloud. In addition, each of the three agencies we reviewed established migration plans for these services and had migrated at least one service to the cloud by December 2011. However, each of the three agencies' migration plans we reviewed were missing key required elements, including a discussion of needed resources, migration schedules, or plans for retiring legacy systems. We have ongoing work performing a more detailed review of seven agencies' progress in implementing the federal cloud computing policy underway, and plan to issue that report in the summer of 2012

Launch a best practices collaboration platform

The CIO Council developed a web-based collaboration portal to allow program managers to exchange best practices and case studies, and all three agencies we reviewed have submitted case studies to OMB for the portal. However, the data accessible by the portal has not yet been effectively codified and synthesized, making it difficult for program managers to search the databases and for them to use it for problem solving. For example, a general search for cloud computing best practices identified more than 13,000 artifacts, while a date-bounded search for the last year identified 14 artifacts-of which only 8 clearly provided information on best practices in cloud computing. The vice chairman of the CIO Council explained that the portal's shortcomings are due to how new it is, and noted that the council is still working to improve the portal's functionality.

Redefine role of agency CIOs and the CIO Council

In August 2011, OMB issued a memo directing agencies to strengthen the role of the CIO away from solely being responsible for policymaking and infrastructure maintenance to a role that encompasses true portfolio management for all IT. However, OMB acknowledged that there is disparity among agency CIOs' authorities and that it will take time for agencies to implement the required changes. Of the three agencies we reviewed, two CIOs reported having true portfolio management for all IT projects, and one did not. The Department of Homeland Security's CIO does not yet have responsibility for the portfolio of all IT projects. We have ongoing work assessing the Department's governance of IT investments.

Regarding changes in the role of the CIO Council, the council formed a committee to focus on management best practices. This committee analyzed the outcomes of agency  TechStat reviews over the past year and published a report discussing government wide trends in December 2011.

The GAO report also points out that the OMB has yet to establish any definable method for evaluating the results of the IT reform initiative on six of the 10 action items that the GAO reviewed. On the other four, the GAO and OMB have worked together to develop what they consider appropriate measurements of success.

The GAO report recommends that steps be taken to assure that that the original timeline is kept, and the reform projects be completed by next month.  If that doesn't prove feasible, the report continues, a new clearly defined deadline be established, along with a clear timeline for addressing problems with the existing IT reform plan.

Quoted on the nextgov.com website, Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel stated that his office sees the difference in measurement is a matter of perspective, with his office seeing the original 25 point plan as a discrete set of actions, while the GAO is looking at the overall reforms made to the federal government IT programs.

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