Getting Program Management Back on Track | Citizens Against Government Waste

Getting Program Management Back on Track

The WasteWatcher

After reviewing information technology (IT) program management at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Assistant Secretary for the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) Roger Baker decided to change the way VA manages IT development, and implemented a new system called the Program Management Accountability System (PMAS) on June 19, 2009. On August 18, 2011, this new system was touted as a success in a blog that was posted on the website, holding it up as an example for other government agencies to follow.

The PMAS system is a performance-based process that provides incremental delivery of IT system functionality in six-month cycles and keeps projects tied to established milestones in order to inject accountability into the process. Prior to PMAS, VA’s program management process was inadequate and costly to taxpayers.

For example, in 1998 the VA decided to create a new financial management system, the Core Financial and Logistics System (CoreFLS). Its development of the project was fraught with problems, and a pilot implementation at a VA medical facility proved that the system would never get off the ground. CoreFLS cost taxpayers $249 million after six years of missed deadlines and milestones. Further development of CoreFLS was halted following the failed pilot program in 2004.

In 2006, the VA made another attempt to replace its outdated financial management system with the Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise (FLITE). With the implementation of PMAS, FLITE was placed under the same scrutiny as other IT development projects in 2009. After spending $90 million on the FLITE program, VA cancelled all but one portion of the program, the Strategic Asset Management (SAM) project, in July 2010. In February 2011, a few weeks before it was to go live, the SAM project was also cancelled, costing taxpayers another $20 million.

VA had originally planned to spend nearly $500 million for the FLITE program, including the SAM project. Due to the PMAS process, only $110 million of that amount was spent on development until the plug was pulled.

Since VA has thrown away millions of dollars trying to develop applications to improve performance, placing all of VA’s IT systems under the microscope of the PMAS system sounded like a good idea. However, a VA Office of Inspector General audit released on August 29, 2011 showed that even the PMAS system has problems with support and structure.

According to the audit, when VA began to use the PMAS concept, it did not have an implementation plan or the required leadership and staffing resources. Management controls over the data and detailing cost increases to projects were not clearly established. Assistant Secretary Baker created a PMAS Dashboard to track the progress of IT development but did not provide clear guidance on how to use the dashboard baseline. Original dates were frequently shifted or moved within the dashboard, making the process ineffective. Planning and compliance, as well as outcome reviews, were not performed on IT systems to ensure that past mistakes were not repeated.

The VA IG made the following six recommendations to improve the PMAS system: develop a detailed plan to complete implementation of PMAS; ensure OIT has adequate leadership and staff to complete both the implementation and execution of PMAS; clearly define roles and responsibilities for executing PMAS and establish a central office or group of individuals responsible for fully implementing and executing PMAS; modify the PMAS Dashboard to maintain original baseline data and issue guidance to ensure that project performance is measured against both the original and current baselines; designate personnel and provide them with detailed written procedures to perform periodic independent reviews of PMAS data to ensure data reliability; and, designate personnel and provide them with detailed written instructions to perform PMAS planning, outcome, and compliance reviews and track project budgets and costs. Assistant Secretary Baker has agreed to these recommendations, and has 60 days to implement the necessary changes.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is not the only agency with acquisition and program management problems. A report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting indicated that more than $31 billion had been lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through waste, fraud and abuse. The commission’s report detailed areas where further waste could occur and made recommendations for improvements to Congress. The report cited poor decision-making, vague contract requirements, lack of adequately trained federal oversight people in the field, duplicative or unnecessary work, failure to revise or recompete contracts, unsustainable projects, inadequate business processes among contractors, and delayed audits as some of the problems leading to the waste.

While the PMAS or a similar system could work to reform acquisition and program management in the federal government, better planning, implementation, and leadership of such systems are necessary in order to succeed in cutting wasteful spending. If Assistant Secretary Baker follows through with the recommended changes to the PMAS program, it could help set a standard for program management across the federal government. With estimated annual federal deficits of more than one trillion dollars over the next decade, a hundred million here or there may not seem like a lot of money, but all of these wasted taxpayer dollars add up. It is time to get the government’s acquisition and program management systems back on track.

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