NTIA’s spectrum IT modernization plans have several gaps, GAO reports

The agency charged with managing federal use of spectrum has incomplete plans for its modernization project.
(Getty Images)

As the National Telecommunications and Information Administration embarks on an ambitious project to modernize the systems it uses to manage spectrum, the agency’s efforts are compromised by cost estimates that lack detail, incomplete project schedules, lackluster communication with stakeholders and unestablished performance measures, according to a new congressional watchdog report.

The Government Accountability Office found that although the NTIA’s modernization planning is “aligned with several leading practices,” its shortcomings on the aforementioned points undermine the project’s potential for success at an especially critical time for federal radio-frequency spectrum — a scarce natural resource that is used for everything from satellite communications to navigation systems.

Tasked with managing federal use of spectrum, the NTIA has already identified the IT systems that it aims to modernize and submitted a contract order for acquisition planning support, the GAO notes. Agencies that use spectrum largely rely on NTIA-provided IT, though a handful — such as the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration — supplement their own IT with the NTIA’s systems. 

The NTIA has checked several boxes in its modernization efforts, including the creation of an implementation team with designated leadership, securing a funding source, setting outcome-oriented goals and establishing processes for progress reports to management and adapting plans. Before the NTIA can progress to the design phase of its modernization project, however, it “has to complete a number of activities including finalizing a concept of operations, assessing alternatives, and developing project management plans,” the GAO reported. 


NTIA officials told the GAO that they’re working on cost estimates ahead of an upcoming milestone review with two IT investment review boards, and MITRE has been enlisted as part of the estimation process. The GAO report pushes NTIA to follow the watchdog’s cost estimating and assessment guide and pursue independent cost estimates as it moves forward. 

The agency’s schedule for the modernization project hasn’t been completed, meanwhile, “because other activities were in progress” and “according to the Schedule Guide, the master schedule should include the entire required scope of effort,” NTIA officials told the GAO.

From a communications standpoint, NTIA officials said they’re working on a stakeholder management plan that would formalize their coordinating processes with other agencies. At the time of the GAO’s review, however, “NTIA had not finalized its stakeholder management plan or any documentation that demonstrates its policies and procedures for how it will facilitate coordination, including how frequently NTIA would hold meetings,” the watchdog said.

Finally, NTIA told the GAO that performance measures hadn’t yet been established because they were waiting for MITRE to finish its analysis of alternative project options, adding that there is no timeline for completing the assessment. 

“We acknowledge that pending NTIA’s selection and approval of a preferred alternative, the project’s acquisition strategy and implementation could vary,” the GAO stated. “However, knowing the project’s goals and what needs to be measured to achieve those goals should drive how NTIA implements the project.” 


The GAO delivered four recommendations to the NTIA, calling on the Office of Spectrum Management to address the deficiencies in cost estimates, scheduling, stakeholder management and performance measures for IT modernization. 

“Fully incorporating these practices — such as establishing performance measures to demonstrate progress and developing a schedule that includes the entire project — into NTIA’s activities could benefit the modernization effort as NTIA enters the next phases of this high-profile IT investment,” the GAO concluded.

Matt Bracken

Written by Matt Bracken

Matt Bracken is the managing editor of FedScoop and CyberScoop, overseeing coverage of federal government technology policy and cybersecurity. Before joining Scoop News Group in 2023, Matt was a senior editor at Morning Consult, leading data-driven coverage of tech, finance, health and energy. He previously worked in various editorial roles at The Baltimore Sun and the Arizona Daily Star. You can reach him at

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