The Food and Drug Administration has a half-dozen red projects on the federal IT Dashboard, meaning they rate 1 out of 5 — the lowest score possible – which may indicate a larger accountability problem with federal IT spending.
The six projects — Collaboration Tools, Customer Support, Enterprise IT Software Licenses, IT Infrastructure and Data Center Management, CDER Drug Data Management and CDER Pharmaceutical Quality and Pharmacovigilance — total more than $195 million.
Rob Foster, deputy CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services, said because of the way the ratings are created, one minor missing component can be the result of low scores on six projects that are all new, save one.
“The IT Dashboard has an algorithm; if one beta element is missing, it can reduce the score,” he told FedScoop.
Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office, agreed, saying something like an incorrectly defined requirement can lower the rating.
HHS is aware of the issue. The Capital Planning Investment Control is sitting down with program managers responsible for these programs, according to Foster.
Because the six projects are relatively new, it’s very important to figure out the root cause of the red rating, Powner said.
Statistically speaking, across the IT Dashboard HHS has more than one-third of the red projects. FDA is responsible for 14 percent of those 42 red projects.
However, the findings of the Dashboard can be deceiving, according to Powner.
“When you look across the board, only eight out of 27 agencies have projects with a red rating,” he said. “There are 760 major investments on the Dashboard, and 42 that are red; are some agencies just being more honest than others?”
Which, inherently, is the problem with the IT Dashboard.
“We need to improve the reliability and accuracy of the Dashboard,” Powner said. “And OMB needs to do more with that area.”
All departments have their individual systems for how they score their projects, and each agency has a specific process of questioning and rating. Foster equated that process to how teachers have their own way of grading.
“Does every teacher grade the same?” he asked.
Powner said some CIOs use the Dashboard as a warning signal. If they are not getting the information on the project, they will give it a red rating. In that sense, CIOs are using the Dashboard as a warning to various sectors/divisions/projects in their respective agencies that they need to provide the data, he said.
GAO has been working on this front, making sure agencies are reporting accurate data, and have submitted five reports to Congress on the state of the Dashboard.
A report from early January 2014 titled, “Agencies Are Managing Investment Risk, but Related Ratings Need to Be More Accurate and Available” found that delays in updating the Dashboard and the way investment performance was tracked resulted in inconsistencies.
There is a hearing in May on this very topic, according to Powner.