A few weeks ago, the US Government's Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundraannounced that he had created what he called "TechStat Accountability" meetings with Federal government CIOs to review their IT projects and programs, building upon the government's IT Dashboardinitiative of last year.
"A TechStat accountability session is a face-to-face, evidence-based review of an IT program with OMB and agency leadership, powered by the IT Dashboard and input from the American people. TechStat sessions enable the government to turnaround, halt or terminate IT investments that do not produce dividends for the American people. Investments are carefully analyzed with a focus on problem solving that leads to concrete action to improve performance."
CIO Kundra's idea is to conduct recurring program reviews to try and keep IT programs from going off the rails, or if they do, from lingering on and on like the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS), which the Department of Defense (DoD) finally killed last month after 12 years and $1 billion being spent.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recently called DIMHRS "a disaster"; the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said all the country got for its money was "an unpronounceable acronym."
The idea behind DIMHRS was to consolidate the 90 different IT systems being used for payroll and personnel systems used across DoD into one. In 2002, DoD estimated that DIMHRS would be fully deployed by fiscal year 2007 at a development cost of about $427 million. As far back as 2003, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that there were major troubles ahead, noting that before the development of DIMHRS had begun, the original schedule had already slipped by about 15 months.
DoD needed to invoke the IT mercy rule on DIMHRS a long time ago.
It will be interesting to see whether TechStat, which is funded at about $20 million, includes reviews of all government operational IT systems as well as projects planned or under development. The reason I say that is that late last week, there was a story on ABC News about the US Secret Service computers being fully operational only 60% of the time. According to the story, the Secret Service is still using 1980s mainframes that are in the Department of Homeland Security's own words, "fragile and cannot sustain the tempo of current or future operational missions."
DHS has allocated some $102 million to fix the problem; however, it is estimated that $187 million is needed to complete the job.
The Secret Service says not to worry, though, because "its protective details have not been impacted" by problems with its computer systems, the ABC story notes. The Secret Service also told ABC that it is responsible for a vast array of electronic crimes, such as banking and financial fraud issues and cyber-security issues. It did not say which of those were impacted and by how much by its computer problems, however.
The US government's IT budget is currently $78.4 billion. This will keep CIO Kundra rather busy, I think.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.