Better IT Coordination May Lead to Improved Outcomes | Citizens Against Government Waste

Better IT Coordination May Lead to Improved Outcomes

The WasteWatcher

President Biden  announced that he would be signing an executive order to streamline public facing government services.  The December 13, 2021, proposal suggests that much of this streamlining could be achieved through improved information technology (IT) management and the agile software development of customer-facing interfaces.  However, without better coordination between the U.S. Digital Services (USDS) and the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Office of 18F, the effort could descend into the standard and wasteful pitfalls of federal IT mismanagement.

The federal government now spends more than $100 billion each year on information technology.  However, according to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) March 2021 High-Risk List report, IT modernization efforts still “face significant challenges.”  The challenges faced by agencies for IT modernization include their failure to address the GAO’s remaining 400 open IT recommendations, which is among the reasons the subject has been on the list since 2015.

 A December 10, 2021, report found the lack of coordination between the USDS and the Office of 18F has led to duplicative and sometimes contradictory guidance to federal agencies seeking assistance in procuring IT contracts, and agile development needs.  GAO recommended that the two agencies document “a coordinated approach for developing and issuing guidance” to “reduce the risk of overlap and duplication, and the potential for conflicting information.”

Since the inception of both the USDS and 18F, CAGW has been concerned about the potential for duplication, waste, and mismanagement in federal IT procurement.  While both offices provide technical assistance and advise to federal agencies on developing technology and software, and contracting IT services, agencies need to clearly understand how the guidance provided by each organization is developed to assure they are following procurement and acquisition rules, while ensuring taxpayers are receiving the best possible outcome for the money being spent. 

Better coordination between USDS and 18F is even more critical as federal agencies begin to access the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), intended to assist agencies in modernizing many of their legacy IT systems that are sorely in need of help.  Congress has allocated $174 million to the TMF through the annual budget process and provided the fund with an additional $1 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The new Executive Order, which is supposed to improve forward facing services for taxpayers, will fail to achieve its objective without appropriate guidance.  Given the history of IT procurement failures and the overlap between 18F and USDS, it will take a lot of work to prevent taxpayer resources from being wasted.