CTOs Say Onerous Reporting Practices Threaten Federal IT Reform
Policy + Politics

CTOs Say Onerous Reporting Practices Threaten Federal IT Reform


The federal government is in the process of overhauling its massive IT infrastructure to catch up with the rest of the 21st century. Yet agency officials say bureaucratic requirements are slowing them down and costing more time and resources than necessary.

The Government Accountability Office recently reviewed the progress of reforms to the federal IT infrastructure, which costs about $80 billion a year. Now a GAO report finds that agency tech chiefs aren’t thrilled about the reporting requirements they have to follow to document their reform efforts.

Related: Another Failed Gov’t Tech Project Cost $1.1 Billion

The Office of Management and Budget requires federal chief information officers to report on everything from capital planning and strategic planning to security and investment management. The requirements are to help track where IT funding is going and how well the systems are working. Agency chiefs say that’s just adding to their workload.

The GAO surveyed tech officers at 24 of the largest federal agencies. The majority think at least two-thirds of the reporting requirements are more tedious than helpful. They said meeting those requirements took significant effort and cost more than $150 million a year to implement.

The requirements the officers disliked most involved conducting face-to-face reviews of high-risk IT projects and reviews of entire agency IT portfolios as well as updates on their data centers.

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For its part, the GAO said it was concerned the tech officers didn’t see the value of reporting information that it said was “essential” to overhauling the government’s IT systems.

“Establishing a common understanding between OMB and CIOs on the priority of these initiatives and their related reporting requirements will help ensure their success,” the auditors said.

The auditors also said the OMB has already attempted to streamline the requirements, such as changing reporting formats from narratives to performance data.

However, they suggested the OMB should further streamline the requirements, as they haven’t addressed all the issues the tech officers raised in the survey. One of the main concerns of tech officers is the need to use multiple online tools to report information. “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,” the GAO said.

Related: The Federal Tech Mess Is Costing Taxpayers Billions

The Obama administration’s top tech chief, federal CIO Tony Scott, disputed the GAO survey’s conclusions, saying many agency tech officers had lower-level staffers fill out the survey. He said in some cases the officers didn’t know anything about the survey.

“We have found no evidence in GAO’s report that the lower-level staff who completed a number of these surveys are organizationally well-positioned and experienced enough to provide knowledgeable estimates of the cost of reporting requirements,” Scott said. “For these reasons, we do not believe costs estimated in the report are reliable.”

The GAO didn’t seem to buy Scott’s point: Auditors said they’d informed all the information officers they would be responsible for the survey results, regardless of whether they had their staffs complete it.

Aside from HealthCare.gov’s infamous troubled launch last year, a number of other agencies have also struggled to modernize their systems—including the Veterans Affairs Department and the Defense Department. They’ve both spent billions trying to update their electronic health reporting systems.

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