Carper to introduce federal IT investment bill in Senate

Measure would enable Congress and OMB to better determine which IT projects should continue and which should be shut down.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee leaders plan to introduce a bill today aimed at providing Congress and OMB more detailed data about agencies' information technology investments so they can determine which should continue and which should be shut down.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Federal high-tech projects are expected to cost $71 billion this year, and a recent GAO report showed that $25 billion of those investments are poorly planned, poorly performing, or both. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins have joined Federal Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del., in co-sponsoring the bill.

Their measure would require agencies to report regularly on major deviations in cost, schedule, and performance on technological initiatives. In addition, it would set up what Carper called an "IT strike force" - a panel of experts from inside and outside government that agencies could call upon when managing complex IT investments.

At a subcommittee hearing today, Carper said waste and duplication are all too common throughout government agencies, while OMB lacks enough information to hold agencies accountable and decide whether to "pull the plug" on failed investments. Carper grilled OMB officials for not submitting annual reports to Congress as mandated by the 1994 Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act. The office has only issued three reports in 14 years, he said.

OMB federal procurement policy director Paul Denett said he did not have "a good explanation" for those omissions but noted some of the information is included in the president's annual budget request each February. GAO IT director David Powner said one reason is that the administration is "reluctant to highlight projects with shortfalls" because such disclosures would embarrass agencies. Sometimes agencies need to be embarrassed, Carper countered.

Dennett told the subcommittee that processes are in place to ensure that lapse does not happen again. Carper also slammed agencies for "rebaselining" some projects to hide cost overruns or schedule delays from Congress, backing up his claims with a new GAO report that shows nearly half of all agencies' IT investments get that treatment.

Some agencies - like the Agriculture, Commerce, and Veterans Affairs departments - have "rebaselined" more than five times on a single investment, he said.