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New CIO authorities only first step toward better federal IT

Kenneth Corbin | June 16, 2015
New legislation strengthens the role of the federal CIO, but without cultural shifts within the government to empower the role, the impact could be limited.

The GAO has been highly critical of the federal government's handling of IT. Earlier this year, the watchdog organization included IT acquisition and operations on its list of "high-risk" areas in the federal government.

Blasting the feds on IT

Powner did not let up at the hearing, blasting the tendency toward duplicative IT projects within agencies and the continued reliance on legacy systems, which comes at considerable expense.

And when the feds have marched through the acquisition process, they have too often been overly ambitious in scoping a project, and too slow to admit when the rollout had gotten off track.

"The federal government has wasted billions of dollars over the years on failed IT acquisitions," Powner says.

He is urging agencies to redouble their efforts to consolidate data centers, and to recommit to the PortfolioStat review process through which government organizations evaluate their IT projects to ensure they align with the agency's business objectives and are not duplicative.

Further, Powner and others stress the importance of incremental development, breaking up a large project into smaller, more manageable pieces. Not only would that approach help avoid over-budget, blown-deadline boondoggles like the famously rocky rollout, it could also provide the vendor community with much-needed clarity and simplicity when it comes to scoping projects, according to Anne Rung, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at OMB.

"What I hear consistently from industry is that the issues and challenges start at the requirements phase, really early in the process," Rung says, imploring agencies "to approach these acquisitions in a more modular manner."


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