GAO: Fed IT projects need aligned management

By Anthony Brino
08:47 AM

The Government Accountability Office is chiding the Food and Drug Administration, along with several other agencies, for struggling implementations and management of IT systems.

David Powner, director of the GAO’s Information Technology Management Issues, testified Thursday at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, operations subcommittee, bringing examples of IT projects cancelled, overrun or gone awry — and further urging the Office of Management and Budget to step up its oversight of federal projects.

Federal IT projects “too frequently incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes,” Powner told the subcommittee

And despite about $600 billion in IT spending over the past 10 years, he said, “the federal government has achieved little of the productivity improvements that private industry has realized from IT.”

With federal agencies set to spend about $82 billion on IT is the 2014 fiscal year, Powner said aligning sound IT management across the federal government should be a priority.

He highlighted about two dozen projects that were cancelled after significant spending — like the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Scheduling Replacement Project — and ones that have been consistently challenged, often with cost overruns and uncertain prospects, like the DOD-VA’s Integrated Electronic Health Record and the FDA’s Mission Accomplishments and Regulatory Compliance Services.

The FDA’s MARCS program, as it is known, is intended to let the agency automate workflows in tracking and managing the compliance of companies with various regulations. It was also intended to replace the FDA’s existing “stove-piped” databases — those that could share data with other systems but don’t — but that hasn’t happened, Powner said in his presentation to the subcommittee.

MARCS has been re-baselined five times since 2002, and the total estimated cost has grown from $221 million to $282 million — with an estimated completion date pushed back from 2008 to 2016.

The FDA spent $160 million on the MARCS system between fiscal years 2002 to 2011, according to the GAO, and is spending $18.4 in the 2013 fiscal year, according to the OMB’s federal IT dashboard.

The MARCS program and its dozens of sub-projects are moving along, but in March of last year, the GAO thought it might not be finished at all.

The FDA had not developed a comprehensive master schedule for MARCS to “effectively gauge progress,” the GAO reported. The FDA was also “reevaluating the scope of the initiative,” concluding that “it was uncertain how or when much of the intended functionality and improvements associated with MARCS would be delivered.”

The OMC is projecting the needed funding for the MARCS project to run through 2019. The new system will serve virtually all of the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs in field inspections, investigations and recalls, with current legacy systems being phased out.

Making the MARCS system work is a task in waiting for a permanent CIO. The FDA has seen five CIOs in five years. The agency’s most recent CIO, Eric Perakslis, a biochemical engineer who previously worked as CIO at Johnson & Johnson, joined the agency in October 2011 and announced his departure this past April.


Q&A: Part 2 with 3M's Richard Averill on the politics of ICD-10 timing

Panelists suggest delaying meaningful use by on year

Top 3 ways Big Data can help feds meet agency missions