While most of us would never consider buying duplicate computer systems for our homes or offices that serve no particular purpose, the same can’t be said of the federal government. Budget oversight has never been a strong point for the U.S. government, and it shows, particularly in the realm of IT systems. The federal government budgets more than $82 billion annually for IT, but it would appear that it’s not always careful to see how it’s spent.
According to an article by All Things D’s John Paczkowski, a recent study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that evaluated 590 projects uncovered 12 redundant IT investments at three key federal agencies — the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services. From 2008 to 2013, these three agencies spent a whopping sum of $321 million on programs that were determined to be duplicates. Specifically, the GAO identified four overlapping enterprise information security investments at the HHS, two dental care management programs at the DOD and two duplicative investments at the Department of Homeland Security to support immigration enforcement booking management.
According to the GAO, DHS officials said having the two immigration booking investments were due in part to one component agency's unique requirements, but were unable to explain why one system could not satisfy the unique requirements. DOD officials recognized that the investments GAO identified were duplicative and have canceled one of the health care systems and intend to consolidate the dental systems by 2015 but had not developed a plan on how this was to be accomplished. HHS officials disagreed that its information security investments were duplicative but said it agreed to review them by this month to determine if there were opportunities for consolidation.
“Information technology should enable government to better serve the American people,” wrote the GAO in the report. “However, according to the Office of Management and Budget, despite spending more than $600 billion on IT over the past decade, the federal government has achieved little of the productivity improvements that private industry has realized from IT. Too often, federal IT projects run over budget, behind schedule, fail to deliver promised functionality, or are duplicative of other projects.”
As All Things D’s Paczkowski notes, 12 redundant projects out of 590 isn’t too bad a batting average, but it still results in $321 million in wasted taxpayer money. During a time when Washington is locked up in budget and debt disputes, one would think that a spare $321 million might come in handy to someone.