GAO wants better oversight of HHS, VA IT projects

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Five federal agencies--including the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs--have failed to adequately assess whether billions of dollars invested in major IT projects will keep those projects on track to meet agency needs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. GAO requires annual operational analyses (called OAs) for 17 key factors--such as cost, schedule, customer satisfaction, and innovation--for the performance of investments in operations and maintenance.

The report found that for fiscal year 2011, investments of more than $3 billion had not undergone the required analyses, according to a summary. Other agencies included in the report are the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Defense (DoD) and the Treasury.

HHS analyzed seven of its eight investments, which have an annual budget of $207 million; the remaining investment has an annual budget of $77 million. For the latter investment, agency officials cited program officials inconsistently applying Office of Management and Budget and agency guidance in conducting OAs, and found that OAs were not a priority.

The VA, meanwhile, failed to develop a policy and did not perform an analyses. Its three major investments have annual budgets totaling $1.6 billion. The VA and DoD explained that they measure the performance of IT investments through a different process, called exhibit 300s, that involves developing plans and business cases submitted to OMB as part of the budget process. However, this process fails to address key factors, such as reviewing strategic business results and making recommendations to modify or terminate an investment, according to the report.

"While OMB requires agencies to perform OAs, its existing guidance does not provide mechanisms that ensure the OAs are completed and allow public transparency into the results of the assessments," the report's authors wrote. "Until agencies address these shortcomings, there is increased risk that [they] will not know whether the multibillion dollar investments fully meet their intended objectives."

The report urges agencies to identify lessons learned, why problems occurred, or how savings were realized, as well as to determine where redesign, modification, or termination are necessary to gain the greatest benefit.

Among its projects, the VA has been looking to a paperless system to clear up a backlog of benefits claims, as well as building a joint EHR system with DoD that still has kinks to be worked out. The fully integrated system is due out in 2017.

To learn more:
- read the full report
- here's the summary

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