Watchdog: Agencies Find Old Development Habits Die Hard


Only four agencies had policies and processes in place to develop software in increments.

Despite a history of over-budget, large-scale tech failures like the rollout, federal agencies still struggle when taking an incremental approach to software development projects, a watchdog report found.

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act requires agency chief information officers to certify that internal investments are put toward incremental development, which breaks projects into smaller pieces, delivered within shorter time frames. The government’s traditional way of developing software often took years, with developers and customers agreeing on deliverables at the beginning of the project without revisiting the requirements along the way.

About 62 percent of IT investments had been certified by CIOs for their incremental approach, but the remaining investments showed that agencies still struggle with “inefficient governance processes” and “organizational changes” when trying to deliver software in smaller chunks, according to the report from the Government Accountability Office.

And as of this summer, only four agencies—Commerce, Energy, Transportation and Homeland Security—had clear policies for how CIOs should certify the agency’s incremental development, including the documentation of that certification. Of the other 20 CFO agencies, 11 have policies but need a certification process, while nine don’t have a policy.

GAO recommended many agencies, including the Energy and Agriculture departments, improve their reporting accuracy, and directed 16, including the General Services Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency,  to better define the certification process.

The Office of Management and Budget’s planning guidance for fiscal  2018 also didn’t clearly outline how agency CIOs should demonstrate that their investments meet requirements for incremental developments, though fiscal 2019 guidance does.

OMB disagreed with the “tone, tenor, and conclusions of law” in parts of GAO’s findings, the report noted.