White House targets $30B in high-risk programs

Projects span 15 departments and would cost $30B if continued

White House officials today released a list of 26 information technology projects that have experienced problems such as significant cost increases or schedule delays and will get immediate and systematic attention to put them back on track.

The projects, which span 15 departments and would cost $30 billion for completion, are all mission-critical programs that are being put through a fast-paced reassessment process to move them forward, possibly in modified forms, Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officer, said today.

“This is not about killing projects. It is about making them work better and faster,” Kundra said. “These programs are mission-critical. Their objectives remain as important as ever.”

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The reassessments will include Office of Management and Budget TechStat accountability sessions, improvements plans and specific deliverables, Kundra said.

However, if a project fails the reassessment, it may be stopped, Kundra said.

“The focus here is to make sure they are turned around,” Kundra said. “If they cannot, we will take action. They will be discontinued.”

Kundra did not specify when or exactly how those decisions might be made. In a previous speech, at the NASA IT Summit on Aug. 18, Kundra said the goal was to get the projects on track in the fiscal 2012 budget process. The president is expected to present that budget to Congress in February.

The projects include the Interior Department's Consolidated Infrastructure Automation Telecom at $7.6 billion, the Homeland Security Department's Automated Commercial Environment at $4.5 billion, the Transportation Department's En Route Automated Modernization at 3.7 billion, and the FBI’s Next Generation Identification at $3.4 billion.

The projects were identified through a process of consultation with chief information officers, project managers and other officials in each department, Kundra said. The evaluation identified 26 projects with significant cost or schedule variations from the baseline, failure to meet mission objectives, frequent revisions of the baseline and lack of clear agency sponsorship.

Asked if there was an immediate effect on the project on the list, Kundra said at least one project, the Office of Personnel Management's Retirement Systems Modernization program, has been temporarily suspended from funding. He did not offer details on whether other high-priority programs have been suspended from receiving funding temporarily.

The sponsors of the 26 projects will prepare improvement plans and benchmarks, which will be reviewed under the Office of Management and Budget’s TechStat accountability sessions.

Matthew Perry, chief information officer for the Office of Personnel Management, described the reassessment process as a “special triage” to be applied to projects identified as high-priority, mission-critical and at risk of failure. OPM’s 23-year-old effort to update its retirement systems program, the $136 million retirement systems modernization project, is on the list.

The modernization program is paper-intensive with “complex business rules, Perry said. Its goal is to provide transparency into how retirement benefit calculations are made for federal employees. “We are taking a series of steps to improve it,” he said.

The FBI’s $557 million Sentinel case file modernization program also is on the list. The program is “highly complex, with significant business process re-engineering,” said Vance Hitch, chief information officer for the Justice Department.

The Sentinel program has four phases, and experienced cost overruns and delays in the second phase, he said. The third and fourth phases have been temporarily halted as the department reviews its options for how to proceed and undergoes the TechStat process with OMB, Hitch said.

One possibility is breaking down the project into smaller elements, and providing FBI agents with additional functionality every six months, he said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Reader Comments

Wed, Sep 22, 2010 Diana Carlson-Sherbo Denver, Colorado

Design a little... Code a little... Test a little... then install (on a test bed - this was, after all, lives-at-stake-mission-critical code) and let the users whack at it. I learned the "incremental development" mantra more than twenty years ago as a young software development team lead working for the US Air Force Space Command. I now develop small database applications for a non-military government agency and guess what? I design a little... code a little... test a little... Incremental development always works better, for projects both large and small.

Tue, Aug 24, 2010 Ken Powell, Micro Focus

Vivek Kundra's comment that 'this is not about killing projects. It is about making them work better and faster," I think is key here. As a company that advocates for quick wins around modernizing and maximizing IT assets,
we applaud the Obama Administration's modernization
directive, which essentially calls for smaller, more cost-effective IT projects
that can be completed incrementally - on time and on budget. What this really
represents is a significant shift in the philosophy that guides many
government modernization projects. From recent memos, it's clear that the
Administration recognizes that tackling modernization through large,
all-inclusive IT projects is often risky, expensive, and
difficult to manage - especially when it involves replacing or rewriting entire

We support the Administration's more pragmatic approach to
modernizing government IT, which recognizes that a few targeted,
incremental upgrades can provide significant near-term modernization
benefits without the long deployment cycles, costs and risks.

In fact, in many cases, the net return realized from smaller projects
can be used to fund future modernization plans. As a provider of incremental
application modernization solutions for government, we've helped
numerous organizations realize this continuous return on investment - all without
altering a single line of existing code.

Ken Powell, President of North America, Micro Focus

Tue, Aug 24, 2010 Linda Joy Adams OK

No mention of the off line unsecured computer systems at the CMS bill paying contractors that insiders claims has a trillion dollars 'gone' form in the last few years at Medciare. And something went 'haywire' at OPM. A few years ago the general counsel for OPM was able to pull up my official computer file showed me under Federal workers comp jurisdiction as an official federal workers comp employee since 6/68 with no break in service and the copy of my current employment agreement with Social Security was also posted that OPM approved and imposed on my agency. More recently OPM knows nothing about all this and Directors are spewing out false info to the contrary causing obstruction of medcial treatment as the official, secured Debt of labor computer is posting my real official status bi-weekly to the Medicare computer showing that OWCP and Fed Blues are my two primary payers. The IT officials at US Dept of labor claim that this has a 'security lock' and can't be altered until the system shows a schedule award and permanent disability paid which was been filed for in '96 but has not yet happened. With my transfer to OWCP jurisdiction in 9/94. ACS-Xerox, the owcp bill paying system won't input my oxygen claims as it will make the 2 systems talk so they are offline and not paying the other bills they should and Ill Blues, my Blues, claims they are getting retirement info form the offline computer systems and must obey the wrong info although they have asked and past Directors are giving false info. Medicare's judges have ruled that the Bi-weekly posting is accurate, but Medciare Coordination of Benefits, a subsidiary of international conglomerate is in open defiance and won't obey , laws, rulings or their own contract with CMS and Congress passed laws that govt contractors can't be internally audited, investigated and no one can be referred for prosecutions for criminal activity which US atty's say is happening. New IT means nothing if the govt contractors can still transfer info to the unsecured systems used to manipulate info to have the results the entities they answer to want and that is not 'we the people.' Linda Joy Adams

Tue, Aug 24, 2010 Owen Ambur Silver Spring, MD

Sentinel sounds like de ja vu all over again: http://xml.gov/documents/completed/iea/RainesRulesRevisited_files/frame.htm Raines' Rule #7 still seems as applicable as it did a decade and a half ago.

Tue, Aug 24, 2010 wayne michigan

From what I have seen in 25 years of IT project work for various gov. agencies is
(1) Poor communications
(2) Lack of a proper knowledge base
(3) Obstacles to honesty and
(4) lack of accountability
They start with weak objectives, continue with a poor requirements gathering process, then build products that fail to deliver value. Often, they are overstaffed with the wrong people with poor project skills but high political skills.

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