An inventory of about 20 percent of all information technology investments at the Defense, Energy and Homeland Security departments turned up 37 potentially duplicative efforts that cost the government about $1.2 billion over the past five years, according to a watchdog report released Friday.
Of those potentially duplicative investments, 31 were within Defense and six were within Energy. The Homeland Security Department did not have any internally redundant investments; the Government Accountability Office did not examine possible duplication across agencies.
"DoD and DoE officials offered a variety of reasons for the potential duplication, such as decentralized governance and a lack of control over certain facilities," GAO said. "Further complicating agencies' ability to identify and eliminate duplicative investments is that investments are, in certain cases, misclassified by function. Until agencies correctly categorize their investments, they cannot be confident that their investments are not duplicative."
The Navy, for example, has four personnel assignment systems-- one for officers, another for enlisted personnel, a third for reservists and a fourth that serves as a "general assignment system," the report said.
Members of a House Oversight and Government Reform panel on technology requested the GAO assessment after a March 2011 report discovered hundreds of duplicative IT programs governmentwide and an October 2011 report found that fuzzy guidance and definitions for IT investments from the Office of Management and Budget could be contributing to the problem.
Defense officials have taken action to mitigate duplication related to 27 of the 31 systems that GAO identified, and they believe the four remaining systems are not actually duplicative, Defense Department Chief Information Officer Teresa Takai told members of the technology subcommittee Friday. Some IT duplication is nearly inevitable, Takai said, because of the sheer scope of the department, in terms of employees, projects and geography.
David Powner, GAO director for IT management issues, also praised several streamlining and efficiency initiatives from the Office of Management and Budget during the hearing, including the Federal IT Dashboard, which lists major IT projects along with budget information and performance ratings.
"One thing the dashboard did is it greatly increased CIO accountability," Powner said. "What it says for 800 projects across the government is it says the CIO is ultimately accountable...that was a good thing for some agencies where we needed more CIO accountability."
Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel has made reducing IT duplication within agencies and promoting shared services a hallmark of his tenure.
Defense alone accounts for about one-third of the government's $80 billion annual IT portfolio. Energy and Homeland Security, which are the second- and fourth-largest IT spenders in the government, account for 12 percent and 6 percent of the government IT portfolio, respectively.