Where are federal IT initiatives heading – Success or Failure – Lessons learned

GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide is very extensive and gives us clear details of federal IT initiatives. The guide, together with OMB circular and IT dashboard web site gave some important hints towards how concerned and vigilant is US government in reviewing and evaluating Federal IT projects. The Cost estimating guide highlights customized methods to cost analysis, estimation and management techniques that “sound” no room for error in estimation and planning process. The IT capital planning process molded into Enterprise Architecture based frameworks “seems” to ensure that expected value is attained for the invested money.

Now, with all these measuring and driving models & techniques in place, the real question is if they contribute to success as expected. We need to remember that all these IT initiatives are nothing but normal IT projects that follows a typical project life cycle and need to be planned and executed confirming to standard project governance structures. Federal IT dashboard includes some interesting snapshots of federal IT projects status. It is shocking to note that about 52% of 2010-2011 IT projects (271 that need attention and 55 that have significant concern) are marked ‘under concern’ and were under OMB watch list. Also it was disturbing to note that for most of the critical projects there are budget overruns and there were significant failures and federal CIO has terminated many of these projects – This shows that there is significant issue in project governance of federal IT initiatives and this adversely affects the efficiency of overall review and evaluation methods to the extent that projects fails.

I believe that the problem lies in inadequate control over project complexity in terms of cost, duration and effort. Projects that are underestimated should be caught and terminated early rather than causing budget overruns. Projects that has additional level of complexity needs to be closely monitored by CIO to avoid politics and scope creep. Politics should never drive IT projects. The lesson thus learned is – Current methods used by the US government for reviewing and evaluating Federal IT initiatives would contribute to the successful implementation of such initiatives only if project monitoring and control methods are not taken over by bad planning, politics and/or personal interests to skew results for monetary gains.


1. Whitehouse.gov (2010). OMB Circular A-11, Section 7, Supplement to Part 300. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/a11_current_year/s300.pdf on October 27th, 2010.

2. GAO.Gov (2009). GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide. GAO-09-3SP

3. usaspending.gov (2010). Federal IT Dashboard. Portfolio and Trends Analysis

Article copyright (c) 2010 – 2020 – Deepesh Joseph ([email protected])