IG: Cost data for Justice IT systems not reliable

Component agencies use several methods to track and report IT costs, and CIOs have varying degrees of control over IT budgets, a report states.

The Justice Department lacks the management controls it needs to ensure it can accurately and completely account for how much it spends on its information technology systems, according to a report by Justice’s Office of the Inspector General.The OIG sought information about Justice’s inventory of its 38 major IT systems because the department’s financial systems do not provide enough detailed cost data on individual systems. The office conducted detailed testing of three of the systems -- from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Justice Management Division (JMD).“DOJ does not have complete cost data for any of these IT systems,” states the report, which was posted late last month. “The actual costs of DOJ IT systems that are provided to Congress, [the Office of Management and Budget] and senior management within DOJ, including the [chief information officer], are unreliable.”Justice’s estimate of $327.9 million in combined costs for the three systems was off by at least $68 million, the report states.The department’s component agencies use several methods to track and report IT costs, and those methods vary even within the agencies because IT managers are responsible for developing and maintaining the cost data they report. Justice CIO Vance Hitch, the component agencies’ CIOs and the Department Investment Review Board (DIRB) do not evaluate the methods the agencies use or test the validity of the reported cost data.Although the CIOs have significant responsibilities for their organizations’ IT systems, they have varying degrees of control over system budgets, the OIG said. For example, the FBI CIO’s control over IT spending has increased in the past few years.The CIOs at the FBI, DEA and JMD control many IT system budgets, use applications that monitor current spending and review future spending requests. However, they are generally unable to identify or verify all previous costs related to IT systems. The OIG found that IT costs and other data in OMB’s Electronic Capital Planning and Investment Control database were different from the information it collected from the three Justice agencies.“The lack of complete cost data that is verifiable for DOJ’s IT systems compromises the effectiveness of DOJ’s IT oversight entities, including Congress, OMB, the DIRB and DOJ, and component CIOs,” the report states.Justice agencies should develop methods to report verifiable IT costs, integrate the OMB Exhibit 53 investment portfolio with budget submissions, and consider the feasibility of using the planned Unified Financial Management System for consistent and accurate reporting of IT costs.Department officials agreed that they need to improve their control over the reporting of IT project costs but characterized the OIG’s description of the absence of controls as overstating the findings, said Lee Lofthus, Justice’s assistant attorney general for administration, in a response letter to Justice IG Glenn Fine. The department will follow the recommendations in the OIG’s report and verify the activities it already performs, Lofthus said.“The Office of the Chief Information Officer provides sound project management oversight on the myriad activities associated with the major technology systems inventory,” he said, adding that the department is committed to reliable and effective IT project management.