CIOs still don’t have full visibility into IT investment decisions, GAO says

A new report has found that several of federal government’s largest departments still don’t have policies in place to inform CIOs of IT budgeting.
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Despite the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act’s intention to embolden CIOs with the power to oversee the entirety of their own agency’s IT acquisitions, a new report has found that several of largest federal departments still don’t have policies in place to make that intention reality.

The Government Accountability Office report, released Tuesday, looked at policy efforts at the departments of Justice, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Treasury to include their CIOs in the planning and budgetary stage of IT projects, finding a staggering rate of success.

The report noted that many of the departments still lack full implementation of policies to inform CIOs of IT procurement issues like details on planned expenditures, budget and technology portfolio planning, and more. None of the agencies examined included estimates of all IT resources in their budget requests.

FITARA became law in 2014 with the aim to streamline how federal agencies buy IT, empowering the senior executive most accountable for technology issues — the CIO — with the ability to shape its technology portfolio.


But four years on, agencies have lagged on fully implementing the law. And despite the Office of Management and Budget’s 2015 guidance designed to help establish policies that reflect the major tenets of the law, fulfilling its statutory requirements continues to be a hill that many agencies have yet to fully climb.

GAO officials said in the report that while most of the departments examined had taken steps for establishing eight common baselines for the CIO budgetary review required by OMB, they did not create policies that comprehensively addressed those baselines. Furthermore, while the examined departments and their component agencies had all at least implemented one CIO budgetary baseline fully, progress on the remaining seven has been mixed.

Part of the reason for that mixed success is because department-level CIOs at HHS, DOE and Treasury “delegated many of the responsibilities for addressing the IT budgeting requirements to component CIOs.” The rate of those components’ documentation of the policies delegated to them varied as well.

The departments excelled in crafting policies to address requirements for describing the IT resources available to CIOs, like labor and infrastructure resources, for budget planning purposes. They also reported planned IT expenditures as required by FITARA, but the agencies didn’t ensure that the expenditure reporting included transaction-level data, increasing the risk of inaccurate budget requests, the report noted.

And while some agencies did include their CIOs in planning and budgeting for IT programs, at least three agencies didn’t ensure that inclusion occurred on every project that included IT resources. At DOE, planning and budgeting for IT projects within the National Nuclear Security Administration were delegated to that component agency’s CIO, without making it clear whether that information was communicated back to the DOE CIO.


Much of the problem rests, GAO officials said, with the agencies not having addressed the aforementioned reporting requirements in their FITARA implementation plans. By not detailing the level of reporting required in those plans, the report said agencies run the risk of CIOs not fully implementing them to the intent of OMB’s guidance.

The report noted that the Trump administration’s efforts to increase IT spending transparency in its President’s Management Agenda, such as the adoption of the Technology Business Management framework, could help agencies address the current process gaps. But GAO also cautioned that CIOs will still not have full visibility into their IT budgets until they document all relevant costs.

GAO offered a total of 43 recommendations to the four departments and several of their component agencies.

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