GAO: Billions More To Be Saved by IT Reform

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

GAO on Tuesday released its fifth annual assessment of federal inefficiencies highlighting IT initiatives that could be more efficient.

Federal agencies could save billions of dollars by reducing wasteful IT spending, the Government Accountability Office suggested in its annual report on careless spending and copycat programs. 

GAO on Tuesday released its fifth annual assessment of redundant and inefficient federal programs, along with 66 recommendations for reducing duplicative efforts. Among GAO's suggestions for trimming IT spending were better management of software licenses and reporting more accurate data about financial savings from data center consolidation. 

During the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs's hearing on the topic, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., noted the recent Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, which boosts the authority of federal chief information officers, could help agencies look for inefficiencies across their IT purchases. 

Comptroller General Gene Dodaro testified during the hearing that congressional pressure is necessary to motivate agencies to keep driving inefficiencies in their spending. 

Over the past few years, he said, "[in] most of these areas where we cite savings, it took congressional action to really achieve those savings, even though the agencies were moving in the right direction."

The federal government spends more than $80 billion on IT each year.

By better managing fees for software licenses, the federal government could save hundreds of millions of dollars, the report said. Of 24 major federal agencies, only two had policies including clear authority for managing software license agreements, GAO found. GAO recommended the Office of Management and Budget issue a directive to agencies on developing a license management policy.

The report also noted that agencies weren't fully using PortfolioStat, the federal government's IT spending review process, or the IT Dashboard, which tracks spending on agencies' IT investments. GAO has made more than 60 recommendations pushing the use of PortfolioStat across agencies, which could result in potential savings of almost $6 billion through fiscal year 2015, the report said.

Agencies are also underreporting their cost savings from consolidating federal data centers, which could cut about $5.3 billion by the fiscal year 2017, the report found. GAO claims savings were underreported to OMB by $2.2 billion.  

Geospatial investments were also duplicative across agencies, GAO found. Agencies often didn't have procedures in place that would help them coordinate their geospatial data projects. In the report, GAO recommended OMB improve its oversight of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, and that federal agencies report on their geospatial IT efforts before making new investments. 

The report noted that overall -- including non-IT expenditures -- the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy and Veterans Affairs could save more than $4 billion annually by slashing procurement spending by 1 percent. 

"This is the definition of low-hanging fruit, and every year it's on the list," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said during the hearing. "Every year, because these agencies are not bottom-line motivated; it just seems to go through the cracks."

But “unless it becomes important, it's not going to get done," said GAO's managing director for acquisition and sourcing management, Paul Francis.

"Agencies get complacent," he said. "If they have the budget to pay for something, that kind of becomes the fair price."