The Office of Management and Budget should give federal agencies better guidance on what counts as an information technology investment and what doesn't and demand more information on what they're doing to reduce duplicative IT spending, a watchdog said Wednesday.
The report from the Government Accountability Office also urged OMB to clarify which agencies are included in its oft-cited figure of roughly $80 billion in annual IT investments and which aren't.
That figure doesn't include several small, independent or intelligence-focused agencies. When those agencies' IT investments are added in, the government's IT footprint is significantly higher.
OMB generally agreed with the first set of recommendations, but rejected the suggestion it should better explain its $80 billion in annual IT spending figure, saying the distinctions are sufficiently clear, GAO said.
OMB's definition of an IT investment is overly broad, leading to confusion between agencies about what they should be reporting, GAO said. For example, five of the 10 agencies that GAO looked at count research and development spending as an IT investment and five do not.
OMB also scoops IT spending into large categories, making it difficult for agencies to determine when and if they're duplicating something that's already been done internally or in a way that could be leveraged at another agency, the report said.
Most large agencies have internal task forces that assess whether new IT systems are duplicative, according to GAO, but they don't routinely assess legacy systems, which continue to eat up IT money through upgrades and maintenance.
"Until agencies routinely assess their IT investment portfolios to identify and reduce duplicative systems, the government's current situation of having hundreds of similar IT investments will continue to exist," the report said.
OMB has struggled for years to get a handle on duplicative IT spending and projects that run years past deadline and millions of dollars over budget, most recently through a controversial Federal IT Dashboard, which rates projects across government using a variety of metrics.
Despite several improvements, that dashboard still is not giving a real-time assessment of spending on particular projects, GAO said.