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GAO: US gov't IT reform slower than claimed

The U.S. OMB still has work to do to meet its goal of streamlining government IT systems, a report says

The efforts of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration to streamline and improve the government's IT systems aren't proceeding as quickly as officials have suggested, a federal auditor said Thursday.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has made "solid progress" toward IT reform, but officials there have oversold their progress, said David Powner, director of IT management issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

"Our review shows less progress than what OMB reports," Powner said during a hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "Prematurely declaring victory in areas where more needs to be done will have the wrong consequences."

OMB still has work to do on its goal of closing nearly 1,000 government data centers by 2015, and its goal of moving several government services to the cloud, Powner said, echoing a report GAO released Thursday. In both areas, federal agencies need "clear cost-savings targets to work toward," he said.

As of December, OMB had reported it has completed its work on data-center consolidation efforts and the administration's "cloud first" initiative. Powner disagreed, saying OMB has more work to do in both areas. Powner's team reviewed 10 IT reform goals pushed by the Obama administration. OMB said it has completed work on seven of the goals, while the GAO report said only three are completed.

OMB recognizes there is more work to do in several IT reform areas, and work will continue even after OMB declares that action items are completed, Powner wrote in the GAO report. OMB believes its December 2010 IT reform plan has "served its purpose as a catalyst for a set of broader initiatives," Powner wrote. "We disagree with this approach."

Powner highlighted several areas of concern. About 25 percent of the major IT projects underway within the U.S. government -- representing about US $13 billion in spending -- have significant problems, he said.

Powner also called on OMB to focus more on eliminating duplicative spending at agencies, and to support federal procurement processes that encourage more so-called modular development, where projects are broken up into smaller bites. OMB has not established time frames for completing five of seven IT reform efforts reviewed by GAO that are behind schedule, his report said.

"Now's not the time to take the foot off the accelerator," Powner said. "We want to keep that momentum going."

Steven VanRoekel, CIO at OMB, downplayed the differences between GAO's assessment of IT reform progress and his own agency's. The disagreements between OMB and GAO are about the scope of the Obama administration's 2010 IT reform plan, he said. That 25-point plan "was really about shocking the system" as a first step toward long-term efforts, he said.

"Federal IT reform doesn't begin or end with the 25-point plan," VanRoekel added.

Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, praised OMB's efforts, saying the agency is "on the right track."

OMB released some ambitious goals with its 25-point plan, and streamlining the U.S. government's IT systems is a long-term effort, added Molly O'Neill, vice president at CGI, an IT services provider that works with government agencies.

"I think OMB put some stretch goals out there on purpose," O'Neill said. "If you don't put stretch goals out there, you're never going to get the momentum and drive toward doing that."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]


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