GAO: Federal IT budget far more than $79 billion


A review of federal information technology investments found that agencies spend far more than the $79 billion reported on the government’s web-based IT tracking system, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

The IT Dashboard only provides investment data for 26 agencies, the report noted. The website does not include spending data for 61 other agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Central Intelligence Agency and legislative and judicial branch agencies.

OMB encourages small agencies to use the IT Dashboard, but they choose not to, according to the GAO report released Wednesday.

While administration officials often quote $79 or $80 billion as the entire federal IT spend for fiscal 2011, GAO highlighted instances where agencies accounted for some IT systems in their overall IT budget but excluded others. GAO blamed the inconsistencies on the Office of Management and Budget’s murky guidance for how agencies should report IT investments and identify and categorize them.

OMB defines IT as any equipment used to automate various processes, such as acquisition and storage, or equipment used to receive and transmit data and information.

OMB officials said they give “agencies the flexibility to determine what to include as an IT investment, and agencies have chosen to interpret the definition of IT in different ways,” the report said.

“As a result, the nation’s actual annual investment in IT is much higher than the $78.8 billion identified by agencies” GAO said.

For example, in its IT budget submission to OMB the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration included only $181 million of the $382 million budget for its Joint Polar Satellite System and $215 million of the $690 million budgeted for its Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series.

GAO said NOAA excluded “at least $676 million in IT-related development” on the IT Dashboard for the two systems.

Currently, the Dashboard tracks the performance and budget of for about 828 major IT investments and provides some details on more than 6,000 other IT investments.

GAO recommendations to OMB include: 

– Clarify its guidance to agencies for reporting IT investments and specify which systems should be included.

– Revise guidance to agencies for categorizing IT investments.

– Specify which executive branch agencies are accounted for when referring to federal IT spending.

OMB said the IT dashboard already clarifies which agencies are included in the $79 billion investment total and that existing guidance tells agencies how to identify IT investments. But OMB did agree that its guidance to agencies does not address key categories for IT investments like space systems and whether they should be accounted for.



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