Congress to Pentagon: What happened to the IT savings ideas?

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. at an Oversight and Government Reform hearing in 2014.

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Years after the Defense Business Board task force estimated the Pentagon could save $5 billion to $9 billion by fiscal 2020 through IT optimization, some members of Congress are asking what the Pentagon has actually done with that information.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing Tuesday to discuss whether the Defense Department had buried the task force’s findings, which said the Defense Department overall could save up to $125 billion by fiscal 2020 through efforts such as reducing services from contractors, and implementing early retirements.

During a wide-ranging conversation about how the recommendations came to be and were disseminated to the public, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. focused on savings that could be realized through IT consolidation and modernization. He wanted to know, for example, why written testimony from David Tillotson, the Pentagon’s acting deputy chief management officer, suggested the department’s efficiency target for IT was $1.9 billion by fiscal 2021, when the DBB had suggested $5 billion to 9 billion.

Tillotson said he did not disagree with the numbers identified by the Defense Business Board. He provided the committee with what the department actually had put in place so far, he said.

“We put $1.9 billion worth of initial work in the ’17 budget. In the ’18 budget we added another $250 million, which I would acknowledge to this committee is not anywhere close to what’s possible,” he said. “But there was a deliberate decision made as we constructed our discussions in ’18 to allow headroom for a new administration … I think there’s ample more dollars to be saved in the IT space alone that would even actually come up close to the total number” in the DBB report, which was handled by consultants from McKinsey and Company

Connolly asked for Tillotson to submit to the committee a potential plan for getting to the estimated numbers.

Rep. Val Butler Demings, D-Fla., also asked why the department had chosen to undertake only some of the recommendations around IT. The task force said the department could gain efficiency through work such as app rationalization and consolidation, process redesign and cloud migration for targeted workloads.

Tillotson said he wasn’t opposed to any of the recommendations put forth by the task force, but that it takes time to implement them.

“We started on some of the obvious things … like data center consolidation. There’s a broader set of activities that regard moving information into a cloud environment that we would need to pursue,” he said.

Congress has called out the department for being behind on data center consolidation, and its former chief information officer Terry Halvorsen was candid before leaving the post that the department had not closed as many data centers as he would have hoped.

Tillotson also said the department looked at “contracts for enterprise license agreements” and took on medical IT system consolidation.

“We abandoned some of those, so there was reduced cost savings in that activity and there is more to be done in that. We’re actually continuing to work that,” Tillotson said. 

He caveated that “commercial time schedule one thing, government time schedule another,” but said the work will continue.

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Congress, Defense Budget, House Oversight and Reform Committee, IT efficiency, IT savings, McKinsey & Co.
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