Agencies Spent Billions on IT Without CIOs’ Approval in 2016

Montri Nipitvittaya/

A lot of IT purchases slipped by acquisition offices too, the Government Accountability Office found.

Chief information officers can’t build a robust IT infrastructure if they don’t know what projects are in the works, but top technology officials at many agencies are often kept in the dark on how IT dollars get spent, according to a congressional watchdog.

Congress passed the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act in 2014 after a slew of failed projects highlighted the need for more oversight on government investments in technology. Under the law, agencies must properly identify IT contracts for chief information officers to review and approve, but the Government Accountability Office found few agencies have followed through on those requirements.

Investigators reported only 8 of the 22 federal agencies they analyzed had CIOs review and approve IT acquisition plans and strategies as mandated by the Office of Management and Budget. Out of 96 randomly selected contracts at 10 different agencies, only 11 had been reviewed and approved by the department’s CIO, the office said.

Failing to follow the OMB guidance keeps CIOs in the dark on how their agencies are investing in technology and limits them from wielding the acquisition authority provided by FITARA. Investigators say this could result in agencies awarding “duplicative, wasteful or poorly conceived” IT contracts.

In order for CIOs to get involved in the acquisition process, agencies must first identify which contracts deal with IT and which ones do not. Still, many fall short of this initial step.

Officials identified 78,249 IT-related contracts for the GAO report totaling $14.7 billion in obligations for fiscal 2016. But investigators uncovered an additional 31,493 contracts with IT product and service codes that agencies failed to recognize. The unidentified contracts made up 28.7 percent of the IT deals made that year and had a total value of $4.5 billion.

Some agencies were worse than others at pinpointing their investments in technology. The State Department was able to identify 99 percent of its IT investments while eight other agencies overlooked more than 40 percent of their total obligations. More than half of all IT spending at the Treasury Department went unaccounted for, and officials at U.S. Agency for International Development failed to identify 79 percent of their investments in tech.

GAO found the agencies that fared the worst in the report were the ones who didn’t involve acquisition offices in the contracting process. OMB requires agency acquisition offices to identify IT contracts for the CIO, but investigators found 14 of the 22 didn’t follow that rule.

“Until agencies involve the acquisitions office in their IT identification processes and establish supporting guidance, they cannot ensure that they will identify all IT acquisitions,” investigators wrote. “Without proper identification of IT acquisitions, agencies and CIOs cannot effectively provide oversight of these acquisitions”

GAO recommended agencies adhere more closely to OMB guidelines for involving acquisition offices in the IT contracting process and the role CIOs play in reviewing and approving projects.