Federal agencies are struggling to improve performance in two critical areas involving information technology resources — the use of enterprise architecture and managing data, the General Accountability Office (GAO) says in a new report.
For the report, “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue,” GAO analyzed resource management deficiencies across the entire federal government, from defense to social services. It is the first annual report issued in compliance with a 2010 law that requires GAO to identify federal programs, agencies, offices and initiatives, either within departments or government-wide, which have duplicative goals or activities.
The findings in the report “will inform government policymakers as they address the rapidly building fiscal pressures facing our national government,” comptroller general Gene Dodaro said.
Two of the 81 topics covered in the 345-page report deal specifically with IT performance.
Enterprise Architecture Underutilized
GAO found that in general, federal agencies have yet to capitalize on the benefits of utilizing enterprise architecture in their IT operations.
“Collectively, the majority of the departments and agencies’ architecture efforts can still be viewed as a work in progress with much remaining to be accomplished before the federal government as a whole fully realizes their transformational value,” GAO says in the report.
The key to successfully leveraging IT is having and using enterprise architecture — or a modernization blueprint — as a frame of reference to assess and decide how individual investments are implemented, the report states.
An enterprise approach to IT ensures the integration of resources across the spectrum of agency functions and mission operations. The absence of such an approach, according to GAO, results in the “perpetuation of the kinds of operational environments that burden most agencies today, where a lack of integration among business operations and the IT resources supporting them leads to systems that are duplicative, poorly integrated, and unnecessarily costly to maintain.”
The development, implementation and maintenance of architectures are “widely recognized as hallmarks of successful public and private organizations.” However, most federal departments and agencies said they expected to realize the benefits of enterprise architecture programs “sometime in the future,” according to the report.
“What this suggests is that the real value in the federal government from developing and using enterprise architectures remains largely unrealized,” the report notes.
GAO found a few examples of progress. For example, the Department of the Interior demonstrated that it was using its enterprise architecture to modernize agency IT operations and reduce costs through enterprise software license agreements and hardware procurement consolidation. Its architecture-based decisions resulted in financial benefits of at least $80 million.
The relatively small successes in deployment of enterprise architecture platforms underscore the potentially huge benefits that can come with widespread EA implementation. GAO’s analysis shows that the major impediments to success are still largely internal, although commercial IT providers can be important contributors to agency programs.
“Moving beyond this status will require most departments and agencies to overcome significant obstacles and challenges, such as organizational parochialism and cultural resistance, inadequate funding, and the lack of top management understanding and skilled staff,” Valerie Melvin, director of information management and human capital issues at GAO, told the E-Commerce Times.
“There are certainly opportunities for private sector firms in hardware, software, consultancy and outsourcing to assist the federal government in improving IT performance and enterprise architectures, such as cloud computing. However, we have consistently reported that an important key to realizing the benefits of enterprise architectures continues to be sustained organizational leadership,” she said.
Data Consolidation Advantages
GAO’s report also found that the proliferation of federal agency data centers has resulted in costly duplication of IT resources. “In recent years, as federal agencies modernized their operations, put more of their services online, and increased their information security profiles, they have demanded more computing power and data storage resources. These factors have led to concerns associated with the provision of redundant capabilities, the underutilization of resources, and the significant consumption of energy,” GAO says.
The GAO analysis complemented an assessment of data management and storage by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which reported that the number of federal data centers grew from 432 in 1998 to more than 2,000 in 2010.
As a result of reviewing data management capabilities, OMB last year directed 24 agencies to develop consolidation plans. GAO reviewed 15 of those plans, and met with agency officials at the departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and other major federal agencies. In its analysis, GAO says that seven agencies reported potential aggregate savings of US$389 million between 2011 and 2015 from data center consolidation.
Last December, OMB developed a 25-point federal information technology modernization program that includes data consolidation as an objective — a positive development according to GAO.
“The 25-point strategy addresses data center consolidation, and progress is being made in this area as agencies are submitting improved inventories and consolidation plans,” David Powner, GAO’s director of information technology and management issues, told the E-Commerce Times. The challenge ahead will lie with implementing the plans and hitting several aggressive milestones.”
While much of the management of data consolidation will come from within the agencies, Powner also feels that input from commercial providers could be helpful.
“Clearly, the private sector should play a major role in helping the government implement its consolidation efforts,” he said. “This could range from helping the government understand its current utilization rates to actually assisting or performing consolidation activities.”