Panel examines high-risk technology projects

Publicizing management watch list may distort its purpose, OMB official says.

Despite misgivings about releasing the data, the White House Office of Management and Budget will provide a list of the government's high-risk information technology projects to Congress next week, an OMB administrator said during a hearing Thursday.

Each quarter, agencies evaluate and report to OMB on the performance of high-risk projects, or those requiring "special attention from the highest level of agency management and oversight authorities," said Karen Evans, the office's e-government and IT administrator. However, she told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security that some projects with significant cost overruns are not on the list.

OMB must evaluate major IT investments under a 1996 law that requires agencies to develop clear strategies for such expenditures. A 2002 e-government law and a 2004 IT management framework published by the Government Accountability Office provide further guidance.

Evans said a suggestion given at the hearing for agency inspector generals to provide random checks on projects was a good one.

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he is concerned about the government getting its money's worth for IT spending. For example, he said unqualified managers are running projects. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., noted that wasting money is a disgrace.

David Powner, the GAO's director for information technology issues, said in his statement that more than $12 billion in estimated IT expenditures for fiscal 2007 have been identified as either being poorly planned or performing badly. OMB's management watch list may be undermined by inaccurate and unreliable data, and the criteria for identifying high-risk projects has not been consistently applied, GAO said in a statement.

Agencies need to improve the accuracy and reliability of the information they provide on some IT projects, Powner said.

Coburn said he will be sending a letter to the agencies for detailed lists of their IT projects and cost overruns. He said the recommendations in the GAO's report on the management watch list are necessary to maintain fiscal responsibility in IT spending.

Evans said after the hearing that she is concerned that by publicizing the management watch list, its purpose will be distorted. By compiling a list of projects that need special attention, she is worried that agencies will not provide "good quality information" in an attempt to avoid being on the list.