Federal agencies are accepting some harsh criticism being doled out in a new report that says many are failing to fully comply with guidelines designed to protect against wasted IT spending.

The Federal IT Acquisitions Reform Act (FITARA) calls for CIO involvement in the procurement of IT resources. The key steps include making sure that procurement officers identify which acquisitions are IT-related and having a process in place to notify CIOs of these IT-related projects. From there, CIOs are supposed to provide oversight.

According to the General Accountability Office (GAO) report, agencies fell short in all three of those functions.

  • Of the 22 selected agencies, 21 failed to identify $4.5 billion worth of IT projects. If the acquisitions aren’t identified as IT-related, then CIO oversight can’t take place. The worst offenders were the Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation, Department of the Treasury, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Health and Human Services (HHS), General Services Administration (GSA), and Office of Personnel Management (OPM). These agencies missed more than 40 percent of IT-related contract obligations, according to the report. The one shining light was the Department of State, which identified 99 percent of IT contracts.
  • Seven of the 22 agencies didn’t even have guidelines in place regarding the identification of IT-related acquisitions. These seven agencies include the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of Transportation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Social Security Administration.
  • In addition, even when IT acquisitions were identified, many of the agencies did not ensure the appropriate CIO review and approval. The report states that 14 of the 22 selected agencies were not in full compliance with the requirements, and only 11 of 96 randomly selected IT acquisitions were appropriately reviewed and approved by the CIO. For example, the report identified 16 instances where agencies allowed CIOs to delegate their review to levels lower than agency policy or Office of Management and Budget (OMB) rules allow. In 26 other instances, CIOs or designees reviewed and approved preliminary acquisition documentation, not the final contract. “As a result, the CIO (or designee) may not have been adequately equipped to make an informed decision about the acquisition,” the report said.

“As a result, agencies awarded IT contracts with a total possible value of $23.8 billion without the required CIO review and approval. Consequently, CIOs had limited visibility and insight into their agencies’ IT, thereby increasing the risk of entering into contracts that were duplicative, wasteful, or poorly conceived,” according to the report.

Agencies Respond

Most of the agencies cited in the report accepted the findings and promised to do better. For example, an OMB official agreed that improved coordination and collaboration between CIOs, CAOs, and senior procurement executives is critical. The official noted this represents a significant cultural shift for most agencies.

The Department of Energy concurred with the GAO’s recommendations and said it has activities under way to revise the department’s acquisition policy. The Veterans Administration said it is taking steps to address the recommendations. And the Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with the GAO’s recommendations and said that it had taken steps to address them.

Seems it’s time for Federal CIOs, GAO, and the Hill to sit down together to map a constructive path forward for FITARA…

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.