Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 8, 2016

Effort to Avoid ‘Techno-Boondoggles’ Is Having Problems, GAO Says


(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The chairwoman of the Senate committee that handles the federal government’s purse strings says she’s become increasingly concerned about “techno-boondoggles,” and a report from the federal government’s watchdog agency indicates that there’s not much reason for optimism.

“What I worry about is that we spend billions and zillions on technology projects that are often ineffective or lacking in utility to often dysfunction,” said Maryland Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski in the video below, from a hearing earlier this week. Mikulski heads the Appropriations Committee.


The Government Accountability Office says in a recent report that one approach to “reducing the risks from broadly scoped, multiyear projects is to divide investments into smaller parts.”  The Office of Management and Budget has emphasized this approach of doing IT projects incrementally, most recently requiring functionality of projects linked to major IT investments every six months — but that’s not really happening, the GAO report shows.

Of the five departments the GAO looked at — Defense, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and Transportation — most of the projects the GAO reviewed didn’t plan to have something in place and working every six months. And for the most part, they weren’t planning to do so every 12 months.

While the departments have policies for incremental development, most of those policies have “significant weaknesses,” the report states.

The reasons cited by the agencies, according to the report: They didn’t always know about the OMB guidance, didn’t think it was realistic, and said it wasn’t always clear.

“As discussed later in this report,we agree that OMB’s requirement to deliver functionality every 6 months is unrealistic,” the report states.

The report also states:

The lack of progress in updating policies and implementing OMB’s guidance was enabled by weaknesses in OMB’s guidance. In the absence of agency and OMB use of TechStat sessions to ensure compliance with incremental development policy, investments will continue to be at risk of not delivering promised capabilities on time and within budget.

And absent certain actions,  it warns of continued techno-boondoggles, as Mikulski likes to call them:

Until OMB clearly and explicitly disseminates guidance with realistic goals and clear expectations, and agencies update their policies to reflect this guidance, agencies may not consistently adopt incremental development approaches, and IT expenditures will continue to produce disappointing results—including sizable cost overruns and schedule slippages, and questionable progress in meeting mission goals and outcomes.

The report notes that OMB “partially disagreed,” with the report, arguing that pushing back the requirement to every 12 months would roll back its emphasis on incremental development.

  • Kat Saved

    While certain successes, such as penicillin’s discovery, may be accidental and thus have little merit, many useless failures have been undertaken with great merit.

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