Interior agency pulls plug on major IT project

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Another agency has tossed an expensive computer modernization project on the growing scrap heap of large-scale federal information technology failures.

This time, it's the Bureau of Land Management. BLM has ended its effort to build the Automated Land and Mineral Record System (ALMRS) after 16 years of work on the project.

ALMRS was supposed to track the land and mineral resources BLM manages and automate paper-intensive activities, such as leasing U.S. properties to oil and gas producers.

Instead, the bureau is attempting to salvage some value from the $60 million it spent on developing the core functions of the system. The agency allowed its contract with prime contractor Computer Sciences Corp. to expire in January.

ALMRS was a primary component of an overall $400 million modernization effort at BLM. That effort, agency officials say, has yielded numerous benefits: 6,000 workstations have been set up throughout the bureau, allowing for office automation. In addition, agency employees now have e-mail and Internet access.

But the failure of ALMRS at providing its intended business results mirrors the large-scale IT failures other agencies have faced over the last decade.

BLM joins the Internal Revenue Service, the Health Care Financing Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, the National Weather Service, the Agency for International Development, and the Federal Aviation Administration on the list of agencies whose multi-million-and even multi-billion-dollar information technology investments have failed.

BLM's failure shares many characteristics with other agencies' failures, said Michael Kirkland, an independent IT system evaluator with Mitretek Systems, at a House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee hearing last month. Mitretek determined that the ALMRS was doomed to fail last fall.

Kirkland listed several reasons the ALRMS, like other large-scale government IT projects, failed, including:

  • An overly optimistic project scope and project schedule
  • High-risk technology elements
  • Lack of conventional project management practices
  • Limited user involvement with the development process
  • Inadequate response to project slips, problems and oversight concerns
  • Inadequate testing
  • Lack of large-scale IT experience and expertise with key technologies

Celia Boddington, a spokeswoman for BLM, said the agency is now "going to take a modular approach" to information technology modernization.

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