IT Mercy Rule

Rule 4.10 (e) of Little baseball states that: "If one team has a lead of 10 runs or more after the game becomes a regulation game, the game is over."

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del. has suggested during last week's Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security hearings on High Risk IT: Is Poor Management Leading to Billions in Waste?, that something akin to the mercy rule needs to be invoked on government IT projects, according to Government Executive magazine. Carper reportedly said that, "Some of these [IT] projects can be extremely difficult to manage, and mistakes may be made along the way. But there are times when maybe we should accept our losses and end a failing project before we waste even more hard-earned taxpayer dollars."

According to the article, Karen Evans, the Administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology (IT) at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told the Senators that OMB list, tracking expensive IT projects that require special attention from top management due to their complexity or potential risk, went from 447 to 553 projects since February.

Evans, trying to positively spin the 19% uptick in this way: "Those figures can be misleading because not all projects on the High Risk List are technically 'at risk.'"

"A successfully performing project may still be classified as high-risk due to exceptionally high costs and or complexity. For example, all e-government initiatives have been determined to be 'high risk' and therefore are reported on agency quarterly reports."

Let me clue OMB in on something - if these high risk IT projects aren't "really" high-risk but OMB shows them as high-risk, OMB at the very least has a big risk measurement problem that needs to be immediately fixed.

Furthermore, given how OMB assesses high-risk IT projects, it is much more likely that OMB is significantly under-counting versus over-counting the actual number of high-risk government IT projects.

It has been absolutely clear for the past several years that OMB is clueless when it comes to IT project risk, and that Sen. Carper is on the right track: kill off under-performing IT projects sooner, not later. It is the only merciful thing to do both for the project participants and taxpayers.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City