GAO: Pentagon's IT Planning is Too Sluggish

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GAO's third examination of the Defense Department's major IT programs found some projects spent an average of five years, two months and $452 million before establishing cost and schedules.

More than half of the Pentagon's major information systems programs took more than two years to establish baseline requirements -- life cycle cost estimates, schedule estimates and performance targets, a new report from the Government Accountability Office found. 

Twelve of the 20 large IT programs GAO examined took on average five years and two months to establish baselines, and spent an average of $452 million up to that point. The remaining eight programs averaged around one year and two months to establish baselines, spending $33.9 million. 

The IT programs included communications, logistics and financial management, and command and control systems, among others.

“The bottom line is, these programs are just too big," Carol Cha, GAO's director of information technology acquisition management, said in an interview with Nextgov. "They’re too complex and risky, and they need to acquire these programs more incrementally."

DOD spent about $31.9 billion for its IT investments in fiscal year 2013, the report said -- about $4.4 billion went to major automated information systems. 

GAO remains concerned with the number of "un-baselined programs," those that have failed to establish firm schedule, cost and performance targets. 

Such programs "are subject to less oversight by DOD leadership as well as Congress," Cha said. 

GAO found one program -- the Air Force's Expeditionary Combat Support System, intended to manage transportation, maintenance, engineering, acquisition and other logistics in a single system -- took nine years and two months to establish baselines, spending more than $1 billion before it was ultimately canceled in 2012. 

A separate report from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, issued in July, called that program "one of the most egregious examples of mismanagement in recent memory" at DOD.

“Nine years in planning [is] clearly an indication that the program is just way too complex and needs to be chunked out in smaller increments," Cha said. 

When asked to explain the delay in establishing baselines, program managers cited reasons including “more time needed for planning activities," "contractor performance problems" and "changes to acquisition or deployment strategies," among others.

Still, more than half of the 20 programs met, or were on track to meet, the five-year time frame for deciding when to deploy the system, GAO found. If a program doesn't reach a deployment decision within five years, DOD is required to report it to Congress, according to GAO.

In the report, GAO recommended DOD require programs to establish a baseline within two years of starting a program. 

DOD declined to comment beyond a response included in the report, which said it "partially concurs with the recommendation” for the two-year deadline.  

Though baselines should be established as soon as possible, the DOD statement said the two-year time-frame is “too specific and problematic, and the department proposes to develop alternate articulations of such a policy."

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