New GAO Report Finds Transparency Discrepancies with IT Dashboard

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ranking Member Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), and House Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce Fred Upton (R-Mich) highlighted a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled, “IT Dashboard: Agencies Are Managing Investment Risk, but Related Ratings Need to Be More Accurate and Available,” which found that while agencies have made progress at addressing problems with “high risk” IT investments,  reporting guidance discrepancies and lack of timely updates remain problems for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which manages the Dashboard.  The report also found that agency risk ratings are not always consistent with their supporting data.  For fiscal year 2014, 27 federal agencies have submitted plans to spend about $82 billion on IT investments.  Of that, $38.7 billion will be spent on “major” IT investments, $37.6 billion on “non-major” IT investments, and $5.5 billion on classified DOD IT investments.

“When it comes to analyzing the billions of taxpayer dollars the federal government is spending on information technology, the ‘IT Dashboard’ is a window where there once was a wall,” said Chairman Carper. “This tool holds great potential and can help both Congress and the public better understand how scarce taxpayer dollars are spent on information technology projects. However, in order to realize its full potential, agencies must continue to take steps to improve their own organization of IT investments and how they report those investments to the Dashboard. As this report shows, agencies’ efforts are getting better, but are still not perfect. That’s why I urge the Administration and agencies’ Chief Information Officers to quickly make good on their promise to improve the ‘IT Dashboard’ and implement the recommendations suggested by the Government Accountability Office in their report.”

“The federal government spends billions of taxpayer funds on IT projects every year, and taxpayers have a right to know how effectively those dollars are spent,” Ranking Member Coburn said. “The IT Dashboard is an important tool that enhances transparency on IT projects, and GAO has outlined a number of steps OMB should immediately take to improve the Dashboard.  Notably, GAO pointed out that vague language in OMB’s reporting guidance allows agencies to reclassify IT investments as non-IT investments. As a result, for example, the Department of Energy decided, and OMB agreed, that supercomputers no longer count as IT projects, and has removed them from reporting on the IT Dashboard. This, combined with GAO’s findings that OMB failed to update the public Dashboard for 15 of the past 24 months, means taxpayers are left in the dark on the progress of multimillion dollar projects.  GAO also found that less than half of the IT investments ratings they reviewed were fully consistent with investment risk.  These findings illustrate how OMB is risking accurate transparency with their current IT Dashboard practices, and I will continue to work with OMB and the Committee on enhancing real transparency that gives taxpayers the tools they need to hold the government accountable.” 

“Constant scrutiny of federal spending is critical to reducing taxpayer waste. GAO has helpfully showed the value of the IT Dashboard and identified improvements in its series of reviews of this important tool,” Chairman Upton said.  “Unfortunately, this report shows that past advice has not been heeded, and has identified ‘a troubling trend toward decreased transparency and accountability.’ This report should be a wake-up call to OMB to make every effort to reverse this trend. Our oversight will continue as we monitor the operations of the agencies we oversee, such as the Department of Energy, whose questionable activity related to the Dashboard is highlighted in this report.”

The IT Dashboard is a public website launched by OMB in June 2009 to improve transparency and oversight of “major” federal IT investments.  The Dashboard “displays federal agencies’ cost, schedule, and performance data for over 700 major IT investments at 27 federal agencies, accounting for $38.7 billion of those agencies’ planned $82 billion budget for fiscal year 2014.”

The Dashboard uses a color-coded rating system to display agencies’ performance for three OMB-defined criteria: cost, schedule, and CIO evaluation.  Cost and schedule ratings are based on a mostly objective reading of data agencies submit to OMB.  For instance, a project that is 30 percent over budget or 30 percent past schedule is automatically rated “red” (high or moderately high risk).