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Senate introduces important IT watchdog bill

Senator Thomas Carper introduced legislation designed to increase oversight, transparency, and monitoring of federal government IT projects. Blogger Michael Krigsman believes the legislation takes an important step forward to address uncontrolled government waste on IT projects.

This is a guest post from Michael Krigsman of TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can follow Michael on his ZDNet blog IT Project Failures, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Senator Thomas Carper [D-DE] introduced valuable new legislation designed to increase oversight, transparency, and monitoring of federal government IT projects.

The bill requires agencies to establish public websites showing the status of IT investment projects and mandates creating expert "tiger teams" to help improve troubled projects.

Carper's introductory statement describes three general goals for this legislation:

  • 1. Using a public website to increase transparency around the performance of government IT projects. Carper explicitly calls out VUE-IT, an excellent Office of Management and Budget (OMB) IT status site, as a model.
  • 2. Ensuring that agency plans for new IT systems contain a clear business case and provide complete and accurate information before the OMB approves the investments.
  • 3. Empowering OMB and agency Chief Information Officers to take action if they realize a project isn't going as planned, before it spirals out of control including assigning experts to help fix problems.

Key provisions

The bill is called S. 920: the Information Technology (IT) Investment Oversight Enhancement and Waste Prevention Act of 2009. It amends section 11317 of title 40, United States Code.

Purpose. From the actual full text, this legislation is intended to prevent:

(1) cost overruns and schedule slippage from the estimates established at the time the program is initially approved;

(2) the number of requirements and business objectives at the time the program is approved that are not met by the delivered products; and

(3) the number of critical defects and serious defects in delivered information technology.

Website. The bill calls for a public-facing, informational website on federal IT projects that agencies update quarterly. This site must include:

(1) the cost, schedule, and performance of all major information technology investments using earned-value management data based on the ANSI-EIA-748-B standard;

(2) accurate quarterly information since the commencement of the project;

(3) a graphical depiction of trend information since the commencement of the project;

(4) a clear delineation of investments that have experienced cost, schedule, or performance variance greater than 10 percent over the life cycle of the investment;

(5) an explanation of the reasons the investment deviated from the benchmark established at the commencement of the project; and

(6) the number of times investments were re-baselined and the dates on which such re-baselines occurred.

Tiger teams. The legislation mandates creating "tiger teams" to "assist agencies in avoiding significant and gross deviations in the cost, schedule, and performance of IT investment projects." Tiger team members will be assigned to projects as required.

To avoid political conflicts of interest, the bill stipulates that tiger team members cannot work on projects originating within their own agency.

Tiger team members must possess certain qualifications; each member:

(A) shall be certified at the Senior/Expert level according to the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM);

(B) shall have comparable education, certification, training, and experience to successfully manage high-risk IT investment projects; or

(C) shall have expertise in the successful management or oversight of planning, architecture, process, integration, or other technical and management aspects using proven process best practices on high-risk IT investment projects.

Remediation. The bill outlines specific, acceptable steps agencies can use to fix failing projects:

(1) providing training, education, or mentoring to improve the qualifications of the program manager;

(2) replacing the program manager or other staff;

(3) supplementing the program management team with Federal Government employees or independent contractors;

(4) terminating the project; or

(5) hiring an independent contractor to report directly to senior management and the E-Gov Administrator.

The project failure analysis

In my view, this legislation takes an important step forward to address uncontrolled government waste on IT projects. I do not share the concerns of those who believe such measures are doomed to fail, by introducing yet another layer of complexity and bureaucracy.

To the contrary, the government IT project system already fails on monumental levels. I cannot fathom how requiring meaningful oversight, accountability, and transparency could possibly make the situation worse than it is today.

Senator Carper and the bill's other sponsors (Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I-CT], Sen. Susan Collins [R-ME], Sen. George Voinovich [R-OH]) should be congratulated for taking definitive steps to directly address a serious and longstanding problem. I challenge those who oppose this bill to describe reasonable alternative solutions.

This bill is related to one introduced last November:

Note to Senator Carper: Your bill is somewhat vague in certain areas and lacks sufficient teeth in others; nonetheless, all things considered you've achieved a good starting point. However, please explain your confidence level that those executing the plan will have sufficient independence to actually do the job objectively and thoroughly.

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