HHS, VA urged to boost incremental IT development efforts

Amid the push to more quickly get the results from federal IT projects, five federal agencies--including U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Department Veterans Affairs--have not fully met requirements for incremental development, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The federal government's annual IT budget will likely include more than $82 billion in fiscal year 2014, yet too often, these projects go off the rails, David A. Powner, director of information technology management issues at the GAO, said during testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Since 2010, however, federal regulations called for IT investments to deliver capabilities every 12 months. Now projects must deliver capabilities every six months.

Of the five agencies tracked in the GAO report--Defense, HHS, Department of Homeland Security, Transportation and the VA-- only the VA addressed three major policy issues related to meeting these objectives.

The report found that almost three-quarters of the investments did not plan to deliver functionality within six months and less than half planned to do so in 12 months.

"Without consistent use of incremental development approaches, information technology (IT) expenditures are more likely to continue to produce disappointing results," the report states.

The reports marked HHS on all but one of the factors listed that inhibit progress on six-month results, including late funding, failure to prioritize requirements and procurement delays of development schedules. It did not mark lack of governance and oversight as a problem. It marked the VA on all but two factors: procurement delays and technology selection.

Though the Healthcare.gov fiasco and failed joint Department of Defense (DoD)-VA electronic health record project remain the most well-known federal health IT failures, a previous GAO report lashed the DoD for a number of projects gone awry, including the agency's EHR for combat troops, which cost 2,233 percent more than originally estimated.

To learn more:
- find the GAO report (.pdf)
- read Powner's testimony (.pdf)

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