TechStat cost savings questioned

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The Office of Management and Budget’s accountability reviews of IT investments have generally helped address at-risk IT projects, but the lack of documentation muddles the scope of the cost savings, according to the Government Accountability Office.

A new GAO report looked at these accountability reviews — TechStats — across four federal agencies. The report’s goals were threefold: identify key characteristics of TechStats held so far; evaluate whether selected agencies are conducting TechStats according to OMB guidance; and analyze the extent to which reported TechStat results are tracked and validated.

The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security were picked for this evaluation because they had the highest number of at-risk investments.

OMB began doing TechStats in 2010 with the intent to turn around, halt or shutter failing or unproductive IT projects. As of April 2013, OMB reported conducting 79 TechStats, which focused on 55 investments at 23 federal agencies.

The four agencies covered in GAO’s recent review performed 37 TechStats, including 28 investments. A majority of the TechStats on major investments were medium- to high-risk at the time of the review.

GAO concluded agencies are generally sticking to OMB’s TechStat guidance. Some agencies have done a better job with implementing the requirements, such as DHS, which adopted all of them. Commerce, HHS and Agriculture implemented a majority of the requirements, but fell short on setting appropriate deadlines for project benchmarks.

TechStats have seen mostly positive outcomes, mainly in better governance. OMB also reported in 2011 federal agencies had seen almost $4 billion in life-cycle cost savings as a result of TechStat sessions. GAO was unable to confirm that number because OMB did not provide documentation showing it ensured the results were credible.

GAO also said OMB has yet to hold TechStats at several agencies, including the Labor Department, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Smithsonian Institution. In addition, the number of TechStats held to date is relatively small compared to the total number of medium- and high-risk IT investments. Multiple high-risk IT investments spending millions of dollars also have yet to be assessed.

“Until OMB and agencies develop plans and schedules for addressing these at-risk investments, the investments will likely remain at risk,” GAO concluded.

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Agencies, Congress, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, Government Accountability Office (GAO), Government IT News, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), TechStat, White House
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