IT overlaps high on GAO's duplication list

Better management of software licenses, data centers and IT portfolios could save billions, says the annual GAO report on government efficiency.

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IT is once again a prominent player in the Government Accountability Office's annual review of duplicative and inefficient federal programs. But in a hopeful note, GAO said the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which requires the standardization of government data, could improve things "if fully and effectively implemented."

Beth Cobert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, noted in written testimony for an April 14 House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the report that both the Data Act and the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act "will further strengthen efforts to improve efficiencies and save taxpayers resources."

While GAO focused much of its attention on big-money areas like Medicare and defense, information technology also came in for some pointed guidance in the 2015 report, the fifth iteration of the annual review.

Federal software licenses were singled out as a cost-savings opportunity by GAO, which called on OMB to help agencies get a better handle on licensing to produce "hundreds of millions of dollars in governmentwide savings."

Among the IT-related areas of emphasis in the report were vulnerability assessments of critical infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security, which "could mitigate potential duplication or gaps by consistently capturing and maintaining data from overlapping vulnerability assessments ... and improving data sharing and coordination among the offices and components involved with these assessments."

GAO also cited DHS's processing of Freedom of Information Act requests, and suggested "re-establishing an agreement between two of its component agencies that process immigration files." Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said DHS was responsible for more than half of all delinquent FOIA requests.

Overall, the annual report identified 66 new actions that the executive branch or Congress could take to boost efficiency and reduce duplication across federal agencies, and identified a dozen new areas "in which there is evidence of fragmentation, overlap, or duplication," along with another dozen opportunities to cut costs or enhance revenue.

GAO said progress has been demonstrated in addressing 37 percent of the 440 cases cited in reports from 2011 to 2015; 39 percent were partially addressed; and 20 percent were not addressed.

Among the IT areas noted in previous reports that have yet to be fully addressed was IT investment portfolio management. GAO called for wider use of PortfolioStat, which requires agencies to conduct yearly reviews of their overall IT investments.

Cobert told the committee that PortfolioStat has helped the executive branch save more than $2.3 billion over the past three years.

GAO also recommended that OMB take additional steps to identify more data centers for consolidation, and that agencies do a more thorough inventory of their data center holdings. The report also called for greater use of strategic sourcing in acquisition, particularly for IT and professional services.

And, in something of a familiar GAO critique of federal IT innovation, the report noted that "twenty-seven federal agencies plan to spend about $58 billion -- almost three-quarters of the overall $79 billion budgeted for federal IT in fiscal year 2015 -- on the operations and maintenance of legacy investments."

In response to a question from Tennessee Republican John J. "Jimmy" Duncan, Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro said "we think more can be done" to reduce legacy IT costs.

Cobert noted, however that some progress is being made.

"The federal government now spends approximately 8.5 percent of its IT budget on provisioned services such as cloud computing, on par with leading private sector companies," she said in her prepared remarks.

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