Senate Approves Carper, Collins Legislation To Reduce Billions in Wasteful IT Investments

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate approved the Information Technology Investment Oversight Enhancement and Waste Prevention Act of 2009, co-authored by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), which seeks to better monitor the approximate $80 billion that federal agencies spend every year on information technology (IT). The Senate action came late Wednesday night.

The bill is in response to a series of hearings held by Sen. Carper as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, which examined federal agencies’ management of costly, high-risk IT investments. The hearings discovered severe failings, including a costly malfunction of handheld data collection devices used by Census workers. The data collection devices did not perform as promised, resulting in an additional $1 billion to revert the 2010 Census follow-up to a paper-based system.

At the request of Senators Carper and Collins, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an investigation into the IT investments made by federal agencies. The GAO released its report in October 2009 and identified 11 mismanaged IT investments made by federal agencies that will likely cost taxpayers $3 billion more than the original price tag. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s James Webb Space Telescope and the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Information System Modernization will collectively overrun their original budgets by $798.7 million.

“At a time when our country is facing record deficits it is simply unacceptable that federal agencies continue to waste billions of dollars by mismanaging information technology investments,” said Sen. Carper (D- Del.), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management. “Information technology is critical to ensuring that our government runs well in an increasingly digital age but it’s clear that federal agencies are dropping the ball when it comes to deploying the right technology in a timely and cost-effective manner. We can do better and frankly we must. This legislation will provide the planning and oversight needed to reduce waste and improve the federal government’s information technology operations.”

“The increased level of oversight that would be provided in this bill is welcomed news for every taxpayer in America,” said Senator Collins, Ranking Member of the full Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “We have invested tens of billions of dollars in the federal government’s IT infrastructure, and, given the digital age that we are living in, such investments will only increase in the future. This bill would address systemic weaknesses through transparency and oversight that would help end ballooning costs associated with poorly planned projects, prevent costly delays when critical IT projects lag behind, and ensure that promised capabilities are realized. The bottom line: This bill would help protect the investments that taxpayers have made and improve the overall IT operations of the federal government.”

The bill would address many of these IT waste problems by requiring federal agencies to conduct an independent cost estimate for projects prone to mismanagement and by giving the Office of Management and Budget the ability to send in a team of highly qualified experts to prevent project costs from spiraling out of control. The bill also would require agencies to alert Congress when an IT investment significantly exceeds the expected cost estimate and mandates that the project undergo a rigorous analysis to get it back on track. Now that the legislation has been passed by the Senate, it likely will be referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for approval.