Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Reduce Wasteful Spending in Government Information Technology Investments

Mismanagement can cost taxpayers billions

WASHINGTON – Today, Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) introduced the Information Technology Investment Management Act of 2011, which seeks to better monitor the federal government’s $80 billion information technology (IT) portfolio and requires troubled projects be fixed or terminated.  

The bill is in response to a series of hearings held over the last three years by Sen. Carper as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, which examined federal agencies’ management of costly, high-risk information technology investments. The hearings discovered severe failings, including a costly malfunction of handheld data collection devices used by census workers. The data collection devices did not perform as promised, resulting in an additional $1 billion in costs to revert the 2010 census follow-up to a paper-based system.  

At the request of Sens. Carper and Collins, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an investigation into the IT investments made by federal agencies. The GAO released its report in October 2009 and identified 11 mismanaged IT investments made by federal agencies that will likely cost taxpayers an extra $3 billion more than the original price tag. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s James Webb Space Telescope and the Veterans Affairs Health Information System Modernization, will collectively overrun their original budget by $798.7 million.  

“At a time when our country is facing record deficits, it is simply unacceptable that federal agencies continue to waste billions of dollars by mismanaging information technology investments,” said Sen. Carper, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management. “As I’ve said time and again, we need to look at every nook and cranny of the federal government – domestic, defense, and entitlements spending along with tax expenditures – and ask this question, ‘Is it possible to get better results for less money?’ Information technology is no exception and it’s clear that federal agencies are dropping the ball when it comes to deploying the right technology in a timely and cost-effective manner. We can do better and frankly we must. This legislation will provide the planning and oversight needed to reduce waste and improve the federal government’s information technology operations.”  

“Last week we came perilously close to closing down the government over the amount of federal spending,” said Sen. Lieberman. “Clearly, we need to trim the federal budget and cut waste wherever we can. Our Committee’s oversight work has exposed chronic waste in the management of the federal government’s annual $80 billion information technology investments, which is why we are introducing this bill today. We know the benefits of vigilant oversight of the purchase and implementation of expensive IT systems. The IT dashboard, for example, has already saved the taxpayers $3 billion. This legislation will build on the IT Dashboard by strengthening oversight of hundreds of projects across the federal government, while improving transparency and management. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that it becomes law.”  

“Again and again, we have seen IT project failures grounded in poor planning, ill-defined and shifting requirements, undisclosed difficulties, poor risk management, and lax monitoring of performance,” said Sen. Collins. “That is absolutely unacceptable. The legislation Senator Carper and I are proposing would address previous IT project failures by requiring more standardization, greater transparency, and increased metric inputs to keep projects as close as possible to their initial cost, schedule, and performance goals. If passed, this legislation has the potential to save billions of taxpayer dollars.”  

“Just like families all across America, the federal government should be tightening its belt during this tough economy, and this bipartisan legislation will do that by ensuring better management of information technology projects,” said Sen. Brown. “In Massachusetts, we have high-tech information companies that have developed technology to help reduce costs and streamline their operations, and these methods have the potential to produce significant savings in the government as well. Our legislation will ensure that the federal government is operating more efficiently with taxpayer money.”  

The bill will improve many of the weaknesses in the federal government’s current approach to information technology acquisition and management through seven key initiatives:

  1. Stop problems before they start: The bill would require that agencies develop information technology management and development programs to try and stop projects from ever getting off the tracks.
  2. Require transparency of Information Technology projects: The bill would codify the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s Information Technology Dashboard, which has been a key part of the administration’s efforts to track, fix, and – where necessary – end failing IT projects. Under current practices, OMB requires that agencies enter cost, schedule, and performance information into the Dashboard monthly. OMB and Congress is then empowered to make informed and strategic decisions about how to manage projects.
  3. Require agency review of troubled projects: The bill would require that, if a project deviates 20 percent or more from its baseline cost estimate, the agency Chief Information Officer (CIO) must conduct a review of the investment. Following the review, the agency CIO must provide to Congress the results of the review, including the major challenges faced by the project, how they will be fixed, and who is accountable for making sure it happens.   
  4. Require OMB review of very troubled projects: The bill would require that, if the project deviates 40 percent or more, the Federal CIO must conduct a review of the investment. Following the review, OMB must provide to Congress the results of the review including the major challenges faced by the project, how they will fix them, and who is accountable for making sure it happens. In this case, the bill would also require that OMB recommend to Congress whether the project should be re-scoped or cancelled.   
  5. Dig deep on expensive, mission critical systems: The bill would require that agencies identify “core” projects, which are projects that are particularly crucial because of the project’s cost, mission criticality, or risk. For these “core” projects, the agency CIO must submit additional planning information on the Information Technology Dashboard. If a “core” project deviates 20 percent or more, the legislation requires an automatic OMB review. 
  6. Cut the purse strings if agencies don’t comply: The bill would require that, if an agency fails to submit information to the Information Technology Dashboard or conduct reviews in a timely manner, additional funds may not be obligated to support expenditures associated with the project until the requirements have been fulfilled, except for expenditures to meet requirements under some other provision of this bill.   
  7. Provide incentives for excellent performance: The bill would also require the Director of OMB to provide guidance on providing cash bonuses and other incentives to recognize excellent performance by Federal Government employees in the acquisition of information systems and information technology for the agency.