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VA’s System for Managing IT Projects Comes Under Scrutiny

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In 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs launched a new system to keep close watch on the agency’s IT initiatives.

The Program Management Accountability System, or PMAS, was supposed to help VA officials monitor the development of IT projects, check for any red flags and deliver functionality on large-scale projects in short-term increments.

But a new inspector general report finds the system needs some monitoring of its own.

“More than five years after its launch,” VA officials have not “fully infused PMAS with the discipline and accountability necessary for effective management and oversight of IT development projects,” the Jan. 22 IG report stated.

Among the problems uncovered in the report, the IG found some officials from the Office of Information and Technology had not always conducted review sessions to determine whether projects were ready to be moved out of the planning stages or whether they needed to be re-evaluated or shut down entirely.

The review sessions are a key part of the project management system, and VA Chief Information Officer Stephen Warren has frequently touted his willingness to kill failed programs based on the outcome of the reviews.  

Still, in two particular IT offices -- the Office of Product Development and the Enterprise Risk Management Office -- planning and compliance reviews were done in only a fraction of cases, according to the IG.

Even when review sessions were completed, cost information uploaded to the system’s dashboard was not always accurate, the IG found.

“Project managers continued to struggle with capturing and reporting reliable cost information,” the IG reported. And spending on enhancements to existing IT systems was left out entirely.

All told, the agency spends $495 million on IT development projects, according to the report.

The IG also uncovered other problems. The office that oversees accountability system -- the PMAS business office -- is riddled with staff vacancies, and positions have been filled by contractors. But auditors said the agency could save as much as $6.4 million by hiring federal employees to replace contractors in the PMAS program office.

This was not the first time IG has assessed the project management tool. In 2011, and then again in 2013, auditors found gaps in the system's implementation, although the VA IT office has taken steps over the years to implement watchdog recommendations.

In the most recent report, the IG recommended VA modify the PMAS dashboard to maintain a  “complete audit trail of baseline data,” and establish procedures for ensuring all spending reviews are actually completed.

Warren, the VA CIO, agreed with all the IG’s recommendations, except for one suggesting the agency replace contractor staff in the PMAS office with federal employees.

In a letter to the IG, Warren “contractors are needed to provide support,” citing the increasing number of IT projects the agency manages. However, Warren did commit to conducting an analysis comparing potential cost-savings by switching to an all-federal staff.

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