A couple of recent GAO reports provide interesting insights on what ails Fed IT. The first, OMB Needs to Improve Its Guidance on IT Investments issued in September, drops the dime for duplication on Uncle Sam's "App Store Gone Wild."
Bigger than a Bread Box?
But, before we get into the application diaspora, a quick aside. How many times have you been asked how much the Federal government spends on IT -- $79 billion -- and what's the composition of the spend? Well, read the opening paragraph of this report and bookmark it -- plain and simple, here's your reference. Until it changes...
I'll Do IT My Way
OK, now back to the App Store Gone Wild. As Feds struggle with cloud migration and data center consolidation, here's a huge part of the reason. Taking a leaf out of Ol' Blue Eyes' song sheet, everybody's doing IT their way. Believe it or not, there are 1,536 information and technology management systems that cost the tax payer $35.5 billion. The Fed's got some challenges tracking its supplies. It owns 781 supply chain management investments -- costing a trifling $3.3 billion. Perhaps we need a supply chain system to track our supply chain systems? Oh, and here's another doozy. We have 661 human resource management investments. It costs us $2.5 billion to keep track of our people. Is it any wonder that we're challenged to compare apples to apples to promote the best, root out non performers, and identify efficiency opportunities? Seems that each and every apple is in its own barrel.
Consider, GAO points out that Uncle Sam spends two thirds of the IT budget on operational systems. With so many systems, we're being eaten alive by maintenance costs. No wonder we're finding it hard to innovate and come up with new systems -- the geriatric ward is sucking us dry.
Here's one that we've heard time and again from the data center leads at meetings of the Data Center Exchange. How are agencies supposed to consolidate data centers when nobody's interested in consolidating the applications? Why would anybody be interested in jumping to the cloud if everybody can have their own system? And, perhaps the biggest question, is the "double trouble" -- and associated stovepiping -- an opportunity to enhance the efficiency of government or a reflection of Uncle Sam's provincial DNA? And a logical follow on, is Federal IT specifically designed to prevent transparency and efficiency?
OK, to the second GAO report, "Information Technology: Critical Factors Underlying Successful Major Acquisitions" issued on October 21. Interestingly, the Fed IT spending jumps to $81 billion in this report -- what a difference a month makes, so update that bookmark. This report focuses on two issues. One, identifying Fed IT systems acquisition successes. Two, identifying critical success factors that propelled these successes.
GAO highlights IT acquisition successes -- measured against cost, schedule, scope and performance yardsticks. Commerce, DoD, Energy, DHS, Transportation, Treasury and VA ride together -- the magnificent seven. Rumor has it that GAO went out to all agencies with the information call. So, the bigger question -- why were there only seven examples of successful programs across the entire Federal government? Why could none of the other agencies point to a program where they'd got IT right?
But, more than pinning medals on the worthy, GAO went one level deeper in efforts to identify the attributes of successful programs. Check these out, it's not exactly an AP curriculum:
1. Program officials were actively engaged with stakeholders
2. Program staff had the necessary knowledge and skills
3. Senior department and agency executives supported the programs
4. End users and stakeholders were involved in the development of the requirements
5. End users participated in testing of system functionality prior to the formal end user acceptance testing
6. Government and contractor staff were stable and consistent
7. Program staff prioritized requirements
8. Program officials maintained regular communication with the prime contractor
9. Programs received sufficient funding
That said, how many on either the government or contractor side of the table can say that they currently work on programs which adhere to these basic rules?
Double Trouble Indeed...
Sometimes, the challenges facing Federal IT -- and Washington writ large -- seem so complex as to be intractable. Other times the answers are so simple it makes my blood boil. Complex and simple -- perhaps that's the true meaning of our double trouble... ?