Washington (Nov. 6, 2009) – A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showing that 16 critical federal IT projects will cost $3 billion more than originally estimated is proof of lax oversight and underscores the need for immediate corrective action, Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) said Friday.
Senator Carper, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, released the GAO report Friday.
Earlier this year, Sen. Carper asked the GAO to examine whether the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was providing Congress with the true cost of IT investments based on several subcommittee oversight hearings that revealed agencies often under-report the price tag for federal projects.
The GAO shows that the 16 federal IT investments it examined will cost taxpayers $2 billion more than projected because of mismanagement and poor planning.
Even more disturbing, the GAO reports that these investments will likely need an additional $1 billion to be completed on time. Two investments in particular are especially egregious: The National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s James Webb Space Telescope and the Veteran’s Affairs Health Information System Modernization which, collectively, will overrun their original budget by more than $798 million.
"At a time when our country faces record deficits and dramatic budget cuts, it is unacceptable that agencies are not telling Congress and the taxpayers the true costs for these large-scale technology investments," said Sen. Carper. "And, because the GAO looked at only 16 of the many federal IT projects needed to protect our country, it seems we could really be looking at many more billions of dollars of cost overruns on technology that will be delivered obsolete and broken."
"The findings by the GAO represent an urgent call to action," said Sen. Collins. "After looking at only 16 major IT investments, GAO identified more than $3 billion in cost overruns. That indicates that outrageous, out-of-control IT procurements are far too common. I am concerned about how much more waste would be found if GAO undertook a wider examination. Once again, the report demonstrates the need to focus on effective planning – before projects are initiated – subsequent tracking, and reliable reporting of major information technology investment government-wide. A more robust and aggressive approach to overseeing federal spending on IT investments is essential to reducing waste of taxpayer dollars."
Sens. Carper and Collins introduced a bill earlier this year in response to the high price tag of agency mismanagement and poor planning. The "Information Technology Investment Oversight and Waste Prevention Act of 2009" (S. 920) would require federal agencies to conduct an independent cost estimate for risky projects that typically end up over-budget and behind schedule. The bill would also require agencies to alert Congress when an investment significantly deviates from the expected cost estimate and must undergo a rigorous analysis to get it back on track. And, it would enable the OMB to send in a team of highly qualified experts to prevent risky projects from spiraling out of control in the first place.
"The goal of our bill is not to harass agencies with excessive reporting and oversight. But Congress needs more information about these projects so we can decide whether we want to continue funding them or not," Sen. Carper said.
Sens. Carper and Collins teamed up recently to ask the GAO to examine investments every quarter to see whether the cost for the other 780 federal IT projects is accurate and honest.