Government Technology Opportunity in the 21st Century: Improving the Acquisition of Major IT Systems for the Federal Government
This report of the Commission on Government Technology Opportunity in the 21st Century (GTO-21) provides, from the perspective of leading Federal IT contractors and academics in the field of Federal procurement, recommendations regarding how Government and industry can improve the way major IT systems are procured and developed.
Context - The Federal Government applies IT on a scale and range unrivaled by any other organization in the world. From geographic information systems used to monitor hazardous waste sites to intelligence systems used to search hundreds of thousands of hours of video to support warfighters in Afghanistan, from financial systems supporting $3 trillion in annual expenditures to human resource systems managing a civilian and military workforce of over 4 million, the Government uses thousands of complex and interrelated IT applications to provide essential services to the citizens of the United States. Nevertheless, there is a significant gap between the level of IT available to many of those citizens and the level available throughout much of the Government, from senior leaders to line employees. Teenagers across the country use smartphones to organize every aspect of their lives; start-up companies use software available over the web to set up financial systems in a matter of days; large corporations continuously refresh mission-critical applications to take advantage of the latest advances in processing power, storage capacity, network bandwidth and application functionality. In all these areas, the Government lags behind. Sometimes the problem is more than just lagging behind: 55 major IT acquisitions totaling $3 billion in FY2010 investment are currently rated red overall on the Federal IT Dashboard. Some very large—and very prominent—acquisitions have failed or been cancelled after hundreds of millions of dollars and years of work have been invested in them. While red and failed programs are not typical of Federal IT acquisitions, any waste of taxpayer dollars is unacceptable. This is especially true in a time of economic difficulty and large budget deficits. More widespread than outright failures are increases in cost and delays in schedule. The IT Dashboard currently identifies 142 major investments as yellow for cost and 138 as yellow for schedule. Even when a system ultimately functions effectively, delays and cost growth undermine the return on investment for the taxpayer and the end user. Focus - It is the goal of the GTO-21 Commission to provide recommendations for improving the Government’s return on its IT investment. More than that, we identify the obstacles to implementing our recommendations and further recommend specific actions that Government and industry can take to overcome those obstacles. In order to maximize the effectiveness of our effort, we have sharply focused its scope on a single, high-impact type of IT acquisition: major application development projects. It would be valuable to apply an industry/university perspective to other types of IT acquisition, such as infrastructure (data centers, networking, managed services) or small application development and governance, but we have not addressed these here. Similarly, the acquisition of major new IT systems is often intertwined with business transformation, but we have kept our focus on IT and have not directly addressed that topic.
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