Senate introduces IT failures bill: No wiggle room

The Senate introduced a bill establishing guidelines for transparency and reporting on troubled IT projects. Here's why this is a big deal.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Senate introduces IT failures bill: No wiggle room
The Senate introduced a bill establishing guidelines for transparency and reporting on troubled IT projects. The bill defines specific exception thresholds for measuring critical and large government IT projects. Projects exceeding these thresholds will be evaluated for remediation and possible termination.

Here's how the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) described the bill, which is called the "2008 Information Technology Investment Oversight Enhancement and Waste Prevention Act" (S. 3384):

S. 3384 would amend federal law regarding the oversight of project planning for information technology (IT) systems. The legislation would require chief information officers to identify critical IT projects and would subject each IT project to additional reporting, planning, and monitoring requirements, including corrective actions for projects that fail to meet applicable standards. S. 3384 also would establish an IT Strike Force (a group of information technology experts) overseen by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to respond to problems with individual IT projects.

NextGov added:

The Act would force agencies to think more deeply when establishing cost, schedule and performance baselines for major IT investments. Agencies would be held accountable for their initial projections; if a project varied more than 20 percent from the original baseline estimates according to the standards of earned value management, the chief information officer would be required to notify

If a project varied more than 40 percent from the original baseline, then OMB would have to determine if there were other ways to meet the objectives, or if the agency should pull the plug on the project altogether.


This is a highly significant development representing a state of the art effort to control IT failures. Although the bill text is brief, it establishes several key points:

  • Defining failure
  • Specifying remedies
  • Requiring transparency

Perhaps most remarkable, the bill offers a general formula covering a vast range of present and future IT projects. From that perspective, the bill is forward thinking and ingenious. Of course, theory often breaks down in practice and these general guidelines may not work as intended. Still, it's a great start toward building a framework of acceptable limits to IT failure.

The guidelines are beautiful because they're so specific and clear; if you're running a screwed-up project, this bill specifies your legal reporting obligations. I won't repeat the details here, since you can easily read them yourself.

Fellow Enterprise Irregular, Jason Wood, Twittered his concern that the bill will create more red tape. However, it's important to note the CBO estimated implementing this bill will cost "between $25 million and $50 million over the 2009-2013 period." To put this number in perspective, the CBO added:

According to the Government Accountability Office, OMB and federal agencies have identified more than 400 IT projects—costing $25.2 billion in 2008—as being poorly planned, poorly performing, or both.

The bill is neither perfection nor panacea. However, it is an excellent early stage effort to monitor, track, report, and fix troubled government projects. Although some large private sector organizations already have similar mechanisms in place, such discipline is unusual and definitely shows the future of strategic IT management.

Believe me; removing IT failure wiggle room is a big deal.

[Image showing project management denial, mixed with attempts to wiggle out of transparent disclosure, via beforethearchitect.com.]

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