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Watchdog Says Federal IT Projects Waste Billions, ‘Frequently Fail’

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

Government agencies invest $80 billion dollars per year in information technology programs, but taxpayers can only watch and wonder as their money is wasted on canceled projects, thanks to official mismanagement.

Information technology investments “frequently fail” and “have often resulted in multimillion dollar cost overruns and years-long schedule delays,” Government Accountability Office Director of Information Technology Management Issues David Powner told Congress this week.

“This underperformance of federal IT projects can be traced to a lack of disciplined and effective management and inadequate executive level oversight,” Powner said during testimony before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subcommittee.

Powner cited six examples of failed IT projects that collectively cost more than $8 billion but produced no results.

In one example, the Air Force wasted $1 billion on its Expeditionary Combat Support System. The project to consolidate multiple computer systems was nixed in December 2012 after eight years “because it lacked a clear objective,” and “organizational will,” a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee found.

Another $1 billion was lost after the Department of Homeland Security cancelled its Secure Border Initiative Network program in January 2011 after a six-year effort. The surveillance system intended to reduce border smuggling “did not meet cost-effectiveness and viability standards,” Powner said.

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, a $5 billion joint project between the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense and NASA, was abandoned after 16 years in February 2010.

The White House Office of Science and Technology said “management deficiencies” caused the project to be “behind schedule, over budget and under-performing.”

An asset management program for the Department of Veterans Affairs should have been completed last year at for $609 million. The Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise program, however, was canceled in October 2011 after six years “due to challenges managing the program,” Powner said.

The FLITE project was the VA’s second attempt to field a digital asset management program. The first one, the $249 million Core Financial and Logistics System, also failed, according to an accountability office report.

The VA also terminated its Scheduling Replacement Project after a 9-year and $127 million investment because of “a lack of effective oversight,” another accountability office report said.

The Office of Personnel Management canceled its $231 million Retirement Systems Modernization program in 2011, which would have automated federal retirement claims processing, Powner testified. It was the agency’s third attempt at the project.

The accountability office made more than 700 related recommendations from 2009 through 2014, but only 23 percent were implemented as of January, Powner wrote.

He also reported that nearly one quarter of the government’s IT investments – worth $8.7 billion – needed management attention.

The accountability office added the management of IT acquisitions to its high-risk list in February.

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