Defense Information ManagementContinuing Implementation Challenges Highlight the Need for Improvement Gao ID: T-AIMD-99-93 February 25, 1999
The Defense Department (DOD) spends about $11 billion each year on information technology to support a wide range of activities, from military maintenance to personnel management to health care, and tens of billions more on technology supporting sophisticated weaponry. However, DOD faces several serious management challenges to ensure that technology-driven processes and business systems provide an adequate level of serve and an appropriate rate of return on investments. Namely, it has lacked effective fundamental management and oversight controls for assessing the costs and risks of proposed information technology projects; ensuring that projects follow DOD's technical and data standards; measuring performance; and discontinuing projects shown to be technically flawed or not cost effective. Moreover, DOD must overcome long-standing organizational and cultural barriers to effective investment processes. DOD's planned information technology reforms represent positive first steps toward strengthening the Department's decision-making and oversight environment for information technology projects. However, for this effort to succeed where others have failed, DOD will need substantial follow through to translate these plans into concrete improvements.
GAO noted that: (1) in 1995, GAO designated DOD's effort to streamline its business operations and deploy more efficient and less redundant standard information systems as a high risk area; (2) DOD was spending some $3 billion annually to develop and modernize information systems, while major business processes supported by these systems were not being examined for business process reengineering opportunities; (3) not surprisingly, DOD cannot show whether it has achieved significant results from its major technology investments; (4) in a comprehensive review of DOD's $18 billion effort to replace functionally duplicative and inefficient automated information systems with the best existing systems, GAO found that DOD consistently failed to adhere to sound IT decisionmaking and oversight processes; (5) this review showed that perhaps the biggest impediment to successful IT projects is DOD's organizational environment, which has resisted departmentwide efforts to standardize business processes and information systems and to increase oversight and visibility over information resources; (6) in view of DOD's long-standing information technology management weaknesses and reforms called for by the Clinger-Cohen Act and related legislation, DOD was required by December 1, 1998, to review and report on its efforts to improve IT management; (7) GAO's analysis of DOD's report and initial actions taken by DOD shows that, for the most part, they represent good first steps toward strengthening decisionmaking and oversight processes for IT; (8) however, it is still very premature to determine whether DOD can overcome its cultural inertia and go beyond these first steps; (9) many of the problems GAO identified in its earlier reviews of DOD's IT efforts are rooted in the fact that DOD's management and oversight processes over IT projects are not effectively integrated to enable DOD to manage from a portfolio perspective; (10) DOD's report recognizes these problems, and states that the department has been significantly reorganized to more effectively measure DOD information technology performance within the context of functional mission outcomes; (11) DOD's report contained only a single paragraph addressing cultural barriers to change and did not provide any specifics on how these impediments will be overcome; and (12) although they cited many DOD reform initiatives which should help address this problem, DOD officials offered little more in the way of specifics of how these barriers will be removed or how DOD's progress with respect to doing so will be measured.