US agencies exhibit poor IT oversight, auditors find

By on 05/02/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
US federal staff like these US Food & Drug Administration employees depend on good IT procurement - but many agencies don’t have proper monitoring systems in place (Image courtesy: Michael J. Ermarth).

Twenty-one of 22 US federal agencies studied breached official guidance by failing to identify $4.5bn (€3.6bn) worth of information technology contracts – almost a quarter of their total IT obligations – in fiscal year 2016, the US government’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found.

In conducting audits of their procurement deals required to ensure that agency CIOs look over IT-related spending, the agencies identified over 78,000 contracts as IT-related – but they failed to correctly identify over 31,000 additional IT contracts, the agency discovered.

Poor oversight was responsible for much of the failed identification, report author and GAO director of IT management issues David Powner told Global Government Forum.

“Look at all the billions of dollars we’re spending on IT contracts. Are we really having the right people approve them? The short answer’s no,” Powner said.

Buying blind

Only eight of the 22 departments reviewed had their acquisitions offices identify IT contracts for CIO review, contravening Office of Management and Budget guidance on 2014’s Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), the report found.

As a result, GAO found, only 11 of 96 randomly selected IT contracts had been approved by their agencies’ CIOs. Including possible future extensions of these contracts, this means that a potential value of up to $23.8bn went unreviewed in that sample alone.

Powner said that when IT contracts are not approved by the right people, it raises the risk that agencies will spend taxpayer money on duplicative projects. What’s more, he said, “you need to have the appropriate contractor oversight and make sure that contractors are delivering on what we’re paying for.”

Patchy picture

IT oversight varied considerably among agencies, the agency discovered. The Department of State identified 99% of its IT contract obligations, the GAO found. But eight other agencies identified less than 60%.

In 2015, the GAO added management of IT procurement and operations to its list of high-risk areas for federal government.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s most recent FITARA scorecard, informed by GAO data, found that most agencies scored between a C- and C+ overall. But things are getting better: the majority of agencies scored an A for their incremental improvements to CIO authority.

About Tamar Wilner

Tamar Wilner is a Dallas-based journalist and researcher who writes about public policy and the media. She's written extensively on energy, the environment, urban planning and small business for trade publications in the US and UK, and contributes regularly to the Columbia Journalism Review. Find her at @tamarwilner.

One Comment

  1. Tim Kramer says:

    I think the total IT budget is closer to 80 Billion. Source: CIO-Council-State-of-Federal-IT-Report-January-2017. That would be close 6/100 (6%) under reporting dollars rather than 1/4 (25%) as stated.

    The number of reported contracts is under reported 31,000/109,000 = 28% under reporting.

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