GAO, OMB chart IT reform progress differently

GAO warns the Obama administration that it risks losing momentum in its IT reforms by declaring work completed too early.

The Government Accountability Office warned the Obama administration in a new report that it risks losing momentum in its IT reforms by declaring work completed prematurely.

“Until OMB and the agencies complete the action items, the benefits of the reform initiatives—including increased operational efficiencies and more effective management of large-scale IT programs—will likely be delayed,” GAO wrote in its report released May 24, concerning OMB’s 25-point IT Reform Plan.

GAO reviewed 10 key items in the plan and found three were completed and seven partially completed by December 2011. However, OMB reported greater progress than GAO, saying that seven of those 10 items were completed and that 3 were partially completed, according to the report.

“We ask that GAO be consistent across IT Reform action items and their associated required activities,” OMB wrote in response to a draft report. “This would enable us to hold ourselves and agencies accountable for truly incomplete actions within the IT Reform Plan.”

GAO and OMB disagree on whether agencies have completed the work related to data center consolidation, cloud-first policy, best practices collaboration portal, and redefining roles of agency CIOs and the CIO Council.

“OMB considers these action items to be completed. We do not,” GAO wrote.

Specifically, GAO found incomplete agency plans related to data center consolidation. GAO backed up its stance, citing a memo from CIO Steve VanRoekel about incomplete data consolidation plans.

Agencies’ plans for migrating to cloud computing lacked key elements. GAO recommended that the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Veterans Affairs complete their migration plans. The three agencies agreed with GAO’s recommendation.

“Thus, we believe that our recommendation to OMB to accurately characterize the status of IT Reform action items is valid,” GAO wrote.

In the area of the best practices portal, GAO found the portal lacks important features that would make the information accessible and useful to program managers. GAO also found an agency has not yet envisioned the authority its CIO should have over IT acquisition, even as it’s required to revise the CIO's role.

Furthermore, GAO wrote that OMB has not set performance measures for six other action items, including establishing the best practices collaboration platform and developing a cadre of IT acquisition professionals.

“Until outcome-oriented performance measures are in place for each of the action items, OMB will be limited in its ability to evaluate progress,” GAO wrote.

GAO reported too that VanRoekel expressed concerns in email to GAO about the scope of the report. He wrote that the intent of the IT Reform Plan was not to reform all federal IT, but “to establish some early wins to garner momentum for OMB’s broader initiatives,” according to the report.

While VanRoekel and David Powner, director of IT management issues at GAO, may not see eye to eye on the topic, they both see improvements.

Testifying May 24 before a Senate subcommittee, Powner said VanRoekel is pushing IT reforms forward.

Powner used a football metaphor to describe VanRoekel's progress on the IT reforms: “I don’t know if we would agree that he’s in the red zone right now. But, you know what, he’s clearly over the 50” yard line, he said. (The "red zone" in football slang is the territory between the defense's 20-yard-line and the goal line. An offense in the red zone is close to scoring a touchdown.)