GAO issues list of IT challenges for Obama administration

New Web site highlights problems haunting the 2010 census and troubled IT management at VA.

The Government Accountability Office unveiled a Web site on Thursday that highlights 13 urgent issues needing the attention of President-elect Barack Obama, including the technology problems the Census Bureau faces in conducting the 2010 census.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The Web site, which is hosted on the GAO site, also includes issues that 28 of the largest agencies face, including the global trade of food that makes the Agriculture Department's job of inspection more complicated, and the management challenges that all agencies are trying to solve, such as more collaboration and improved acquisition.

Information technology issues were prominent in numerous instances, including agencies' problems in maintaining and modernizing IT networks.

But GAO highlighted the IT problems the Census Bureau faces in conducting the decennial head count as one of the 13 most pressing needs that the Obama administration must address. The bureau plans to use handheld computers as part of its door-to-door effort to count households, but problems in developing the devices have led to delays and large cost overruns, which GAO said could jeopardize the accuracy of the count.

Census plans to use the handheld computers to verify addresses and to map information in early 2009, but GAO has raised doubts that the devices will work properly.

On the Web site, GAO cited problems such as memory overload and the total cost of the census, as much as $14.5 billion up from an estimate of $11 billion a few years ago.

GAO noted that the Census Bureau was strengthening its oversight of IT management activities, and a limited field test of the handhelds is scheduled for December. But the auditor added, "There will be little time for refinements if performance problems persist."

Among the challenges listed for individual agencies, GAO said the Veterans Affairs Department has had trouble "controlling its IT equipment and managing its IT resources." The audit agency also cited the Transportation Department's ability to manage the complexity of the Federal Aviation Administration's new satellite-based NextGen air traffic control system, and said the National Archives and Records Administration has had problems developing a system to store presidential and federal electronic records.

In a section on governmentwide IT and management issues, GAO said federal agencies must improve planning, management and oversight of IT investments, but acknowledged that the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies have taken steps to address many of these concerns.

GAO also recommended that the Obama administration makes sure the Homeland Security Department fulfills its responsibility to protect the networks that operate the nation's critical infrastructure, especially those ofthe financial and electrical sectors.

"Until these and other key cybersecurity areas are effectively addressed, the nation's cyber critical infrastructure will be at risk by increasing threats posed by terrorists, nation-states and others," the report stated.

The site also recommends Congress consider amending laws to protect citizens' privacy rights and the Obama administration advance federal enterprise architecture to ensure agencies have a clear blueprint to follow when modernizing systems.