Sen. Coburn blasts feds for ‘stupidity’ in IT spending

Coburn’s remarks came during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on duplicative IT programs in the federal bureaucracy.

David Powner, of the Government Accountability Office (GA), presented the findings of a recent investigation that found the government might have underestimated the savings it will see from cutting duplicative IT programs. He said the $2.5 billion the government expects to save is actually far higher.

The Department of Homeland Security alone estimated it would save $1.3 billion dollars by cutting wasteful IT programs by 2015, Powner said. Those cuts would come as a result of the PortfolioStat initiative that the Office of Management and Budget launched last year.
Coburn said inadequate metrics and a lack of transparency were a part of the problem, and called the Office of Management and Budget’s IT Dashboard — a site giving detailed information on each agency’s IT spending — a “farce.”

“We’ve looked at computer programs in the Pentagon. And according to the IT Dashboard, we’re doing fine, which is absolutely the opposite of what is actually happening in the Pentagon,” said Coburn.

A GAO audit released last February identified 37 IT programs at the Pentagon and the Energy Department that were managing similar functions.

GAO has advised federal agencies to regularly report their efforts to eliminate duplicative programs. After PortfolioStat launched, agencies identified more than $2.5 billion they could save by axing 100 duplicative programs.

The PortfolioStat review process found that by having multiple chief information officers (CIOs), many agencies run the risk of doubling up on IT.

“The fact is that despite the Clinger-Cohen Act, agency CIOs are frequently not recognized as the key leaders in managing information technology at an agency. Too often there are many CIOs in a department, and many of them act independently of each other,” said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Thomas Carper (D-Del.).

However, the GAO found a lack of metrics and transparency with the PortfolioStat initiative that is emblematic of previous government efforts. The report points out a March memorandum from OMB on PortfolioStat did not have an updated savings estimate following the recent integration of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.

The federal government’s efforts to save money by closing data centers was expanded last month by the White House to include data centers of any size, doubling the original amount to 6,000. The administration has pledged to close 40 percent of all government data centers by 2015.

While Powner expressed optimism about PortfolioStat, he said it was important for the OMB to be more transparent about its progress.

“We are three years in the data center consolidation effort and the government still doesn’t know how many data centers it has,” Powner said.