OMB, CIOs must communicate better on IT reform – GAO report

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In a report released Thursday, the Government Accountability Office said if the White House’s Office and Management and Budget wants to help the government effectively manage its IT portfolio, the office and agency CIOs need to communicate better.

GAO surveyed 24 chief information officers about the various reporting requirements OMB expects of them in accordance with the government’s IT reform initiatives. Of the 36 requirements found, a majority of the CIOs said two-thirds of them provide little help in managing IT while requiring a significant amount of effort to complete.

Among the requirements federal CIOs listed as being useful to “some to no extent” when it came to managing IT include reports related to open data policies, personal identity verification credentials, key Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program metrics, PortfolioStat, and cybersecurity performance improvements. Furthermore, open data and PortfolioStat reports were labeled as needing “very great to great” effort in order to be completed. GAO says the requirements found to be useless are costing agencies approximately $76 million to $144 million per year.

Even with the surveyed CIOs expressing their unhappiness with the requirements, GAO backed OMB by emphasizing the money saved and duplications eliminated under a number of initiatives.

“It is concerning that CIOs do not always see value in reporting information essential to these reforms,” the GAO wrote. “Establishing a common understanding between OMB and CIOs on the priority of these initiatives and their related reporting requirements will help ensure their success.”

In order to spur that success, GAO asked the CIOs what they would change about the current process. Recommendations included changing what information is sent to OMB, reducing the frequency of reports or eliminating requirements altogether.

Another key suggestion brought up by multiple CIOs was the need to clear up confusion related to what exactly was reported to OMB, as well as better feedback on why the White House needed the information required in certain reports.

“Having a process that consistently provides effective feedback is key to helping agency CIOs better manage their IT resources and improve reporting; it is also consistent with OMB’s goals to improve federal IT management, oversight and transparency,” GAO wrote. “Until an effective feedback process is in place, there is a risk that agencies are managing their IT in a suboptimal manner.”

OMB did tell GAO it is trying to streamline the process by changing the format by which requirement information is submitted and choosing to streamline where these requirements are being reported. However, OMB’s changes do not line up with the suggestions put forward by the agency CIOs.

GAO recommended that OMB and agency CIOs do a better job of understanding where the other is coming from to meet the administration’s overarching IT goals.

“By not addressing these challenges, OMB is missing opportunities to help CIOs improve the requirements reporting process and its use of information collected to effectively manage and oversee federal IT,” GAO wrote.

The White House’s reaction to the GAO report was a bit peculiar: OMB stated it neither “agreed nor disagreed with GAO’s recommendations,” and it took issue with GAO’s methodology, the list of reporting requirements and failure to note changes OMB already made to the process. OMB defended its findings at length, devoting nearly eight pages to its methodology at the end of the report.

Read the report, in full, below.

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Agencies, Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
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