White House to publicly identify troubled IT projects

For the first time, the Bush administration is releasing a watch list of information technology projects under scrutiny to coincide with the release of the president's budget request.

The move comes after Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., exerted pressure on the White House Office of Management and Budget to give Congress and the Government Accountability Office the so-called management watch list. OMB uses the internal list -- an early indicator of which projects may pose risks to federal IT investments -- in formulating the annual IT budget.

Last fall, a few weeks after Coburn hosted a hearing at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee he chaired, OMB posted online the fiscal 2007 list, naming each of the specific projects and their individual dollar amounts.

This week, the president proposed spending $65 billion on federal IT projects, which include critical defense systems and weather satellites. In the new budget, there is a table that displays some fiscal 2008 list data but less than what appeared in the fiscal 2007 list.

The budget graphic names the agencies on the watch list, their total number of projects for fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2008, and how many of their fiscal 2008 projects are on the watch list. On April 16, OMB will release the rest of the details, Karen Evans, the OMB administrator of e-government and information technology, said Wednesday.

Her division concluded that "these are taxpayer dollars" and "it's not a bad thing" to publish the contents of the list with the budget, she said.

The list contains programs that OMB has assessed as needing improvement in performance measurement, management or system security. Last year, OMB tagged $10 billion worth of IT investments. More projects, valued at $14.4 billion, are targeted this year, Coburn's office said.

OMB spokeswoman Andrea Wuebker said the watch list has grown because the office is "focusing with even greater scrutiny to ensure we are investing the taxpayers' dollars wisely."

Coburn is concerned "as to why those numbers seem to be going up rather than down -- whether it's that project planning is getting worse or if reporting is getting better," Coburn spokesman Aaron Cooper said. Coburn will work with GAO to monitor the situation and ensure that OMB is taking all necessary steps to ensure agencies progress.

The details released this week show that all of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's 14 project business cases are listed for fiscal 2008.

"My first reaction was what in the world is going on in NRC," said Fred Thompson, vice president for leadership and performance at the Council for Excellence in Government. However, perhaps they just "don't have the I's dotted and the T's crossed" on the planning documents used in evaluating the business cases.

"You can't assume that all of these projects are in trouble," he said. "There isn't enough data to make that assumption."

Cooper said it "is obviously worrisome" there are so many projects on the list, but OMB assured Coburn that the agency will work with him on resolving each situation.

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