IG: Treasury’s IT Challenges Persist But No More So Than Other Agencies

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Three projects were identified as having a medium risk of failure due to cost and schedule overruns.

Like most federal agencies, the Treasury Department continues to struggle with modernizing its IT systems, prompting the agency inspector general to retain IT acquisition and project management on the annual list of top management challenges.

The latest report from the IG’s office covers six challenges: one new—the COVID-19 response—and five repeated from years past. Acquisition and management of IT remains among the recurring challenges cited each year.

The report notes the department—excluding the IRS—spent $2 billion on IT investments in fiscal 2020, a number expected to rise in 2021 once a budget is finalized.

“Given this sizable investment, we are reporting the department’s IT acquisition and project management as an ongoing management and performance challenge distinct from challenge three that addresses cybersecurity concerns,” the report states.

Of the department’s 21 ongoing major IT investments, 18 were deemed moderately low or low risk, according to the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

The other three—all managed by the Fiscal Service—were ranked a medium risk: the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, Post Payment Services and Wholesale Securities Services. All three were over budget in 2020, and EFTPS and WSS were also behind schedule.

The report pulls out the WSS program specifically, which includes several IT projects under its umbrella. Of those, the report focuses on the Treasury Automated Auction Processing System, or TAAPS, which is “used by Fiscal Service for the announcement, auction, and issuance of marketable Treasury bills, notes, bonds, Treasury inflation-protected securities, and floating rate notes.”

The Fiscal Service began working in 2017 to modernize the platform but canceled the project in 2020 “due to contractor delays and problems,” including code quality issues, lack of IT leadership support and “governance bodies relying on representations that the project was succeeding, despite some warning signs,” the report states.

“Although projects identified with medium overall risk in cost and scheduling require special attention from the highest level of agency management, they are not necessarily at risk for failure,” the IG noted, adding that the office plans to audit these three projects in the near future.

On the whole, 82% of ongoing IT projects at Treasury in 2020 were on schedule and 57% were on or under budget.

While IT issues have been a perennial challenge for Treasury, the report puts this in context with the rest of government.

“In its March 2019 high risk report, GAO acknowledged that the executive branch has undertaken numerous initiatives to better manage the more than $90 billion that is invested annually in IT,” the report states. “For example, none of the 24 major federal agencies, including Treasury, had IT management policies that fully addressed the role of their CIOs,” a major provision in the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA.

Along with the law—which passed in late 2014—the House Committee on Oversight and Reform instituted the FITARA Scorecard to track agencies’ implementation.

“Since the first scorecard was issued in November 2015 Treasury’s overall FITARA score has wavered between a D- and a C,” the report notes, with the lowest scores in the areas of transparency and risk management.

One area of improvement is the department’s adoption of the Technology Business Management, or TBM, framework—an accounting structure that attempts to link IT spending with specific business outcomes. The Trump administration made TBM mandatory for all agencies in 2018, with the goal of governmentwide adoption by 2022.

“Fiscal Service’s financial community was trained on TBM and has reduced uncategorized IT spending by 60%,” the report states. “In early fiscal year 2021, Fiscal Service expects to see further reductions in IT portfolio spending.”

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