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.

New Congressional testimony by the General Accountability Office (GAO) reports that “352 [US federal government] projects totaling about $23.4 billion — were poorly planned.”

The report, which is titled, Information Technology: Management and Oversight of Projects Totaling Billions of Dollars Need Attention, adds:

In our analysis of the high-risk projects in June 2008, we found that of the 472 IT projects that were categorized as high risk, at least 87 had performance shortfalls-collectively totaling about $4.8 billion in funding requested for fiscal year 2009. Agencies reported cost and schedule variances that exceeded 10 percent as the most common shortfall.

These are striking numbers, even for the most jaded of project failure observers.

The testimony recommends that federal agencies take a number of steps to improve oversight on high-risk projects. These steps include:

  • 1. Publicly disclosing the deficiencies of projects on the Management Watch List;
  • 2. Using the list as the basis for selecting projects for follow-up and for tracking follow-up activities (including developing specific criteria for prioritizing the IT projects included on the list, taking into consideration such factors as their relative potential financial and program benefits, as well as potential risks);
  • 3. Analyzing the prioritized list to develop government-wide and agency assessments of the progress and risks of IT investments, identifying opportunities for continued improvement; and
  • 4. Reporting to Congress on progress made in addressing risks of major IT investments and management areas needing attention.

Federal overseers have started initiatives intended to control spiraling waste on government IT projects, including new draft legislation introduced into the Senate.

Although not perfect, these initiatives are definitely a step in the right direction. On the other hand, the testimony concludes with a comment implying gaps and lack of clarity around oversight strategy and policy control between the GAO and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). If the watchdogs aren’t on the same page, then they will not be effective in preventing IT waste.

[Thanks to Kim Nash from CIO Magazine for referring me to this document.]