WASHINGTON – The federal government spends far more each year on information technology than the $79 billion figure commonly cited, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) out Wednesday. The report also found that duplication is a near certainty but difficult to root out because agencies categorize their investments in different ways.

The report was requested by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Federal Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., along with the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight of Government Reform. GAO said that the $79 billion figure does not include the spending of 58 agencies, the Legislative Branch, or the Judicial Branch of government.

“How can a government cut its budget if it doesn’t know how much it spends or what it spends its money on?” Lieberman said. “A disturbing, new GAO report makes it clear that the federal government has only a loose idea of the money it devotes to information technology. The Administration has told us federal IT expenditures total about $80 billion a year. But GAO found that sum doesn’t include 58 agencies – including the CIA – or the legislative and judicial branches.

“GAO also found that agencies categorize their IT investments in different ways, making it difficult to weed out duplication. This type of loose accounting and wasteful spending is sloppy, lazy, and wrong at any time, but especially when we are trying to squeeze the most value out of every single scarce taxpayer dollar. I urge the Office of Management and Budget and federal agencies to improve their reporting on IT investments and eliminate unnecessary IT systems.”

Collins said: “Aggressive oversight of the taxpayer money spent on federal IT investments annually is critical to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.  The “IT Dashboard” is an important tool for accountability and public transparency, but its usefulness hinges on accurate, up-to-date data being entered into the system.              

“We have seen hundreds of millions of dollars wasted by the federal government on poorly planned and poorly managed IT projects and through unnecessarily duplicative IT investments.  Yet, GAO found that opportunities to identify and reduce duplication in IT investments are still being missed.  The Department of Defense identified over 650 investments in supply chain management alone, and the Department of Energy identified 172 investments in IT management.  Agencies must be more proactive in providing factual and complete information about their IT investments and indentifying potentially duplicative systems.”

Carper said: “Now more than ever we must be better stewards of taxpayer dollars for all programs and learn how to do more with less. The federal government’s information technology portfolio is no exception. We need to cut what we can’t afford and nurture innovative and more cost-effective technologies. However, we can’t manage what we can’t measure, and today’s GAO report shows that we must do a better job of assessing and overseeing our annual federal information technology expenses. To make our government more efficient and ensure we make cuts where appropriate, we must fix the federal government’s broken information technology management system. That’s why I, along with Senators Scott Brown, Lieberman, and Collins, introduced the Information Technology Investment Management Act of 2011, which calls for greater transparency when it comes to the cost and performance of our nation’s information technology investments, as well as increased agency accountability for failed information technology projects. I hope this report draws more attention to this imperative management issue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to ensure that we continue to improve our nation’s information technology management.”  

 The report, titled “Information Technology: OMB Needs to Improve Its Guidance on IT Investments,” found a potentially disturbing amount of duplication within agencies’ IT programs. But GAO said OMB must obtain detailed, standardized information about agency investments if it is to prevent duplication.