While the weather’s tip top, the May 7 Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing on Federal IT investments would have left Bill Murray with a chill. While the Ghostbuster suffered Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, even he’d be scared by the déjà vu in D.C. For those who follow these things – the hearing sounded and tasted like last year’s hearing. Did OMB see its shadow – and if so, does that mean more accountability or six more weeks of IT left out in the cold?

This was the annual appropriator hearing on Fed IT spending. The questions here – is Fed IT’s behavior appropriate, and will the Hill change its appropriation? Rather than simply report on who said what, we wanted to follow up with Senator Mikulski (D-Md.), the appropriations committee chair, to find out about next steps. Not to be inappropriate, but does the Hill plan to follow up on its comments – will we see any change in Fed IT appropriations?

The witness line up for the hearing included Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel and GAO IT director Dave Powner, as well as the administrators from GSA and OPM.

Read My Lips

To give you the net upfront, Senator Mikulski threw down hard in the hearing – she’s not happy about what she heard. And I quote – “We have spent billions of dollars on projects that have languished for years, only to be canceled or replaced with something else. This is inexcusable.”

Now You See IT, Now You Don’t…

Okay, now back to the stuff of the hearing. Pressed on IT savings, Steven VanRoekel said OMB has delivered $2.5 billion in savings from its PortfolioStat – and that we’ve already realized $1.9 billion in savings. To quote Cuba Gooding Jr. – Show me the money! But VanRoekel’s no Jerry Maguire. In this era of open government, OMB won’t release its CIO assessments. So, we don’t get to verify which agencies have realized savings, how they’ve achieved this, or where that saved money has been reprogrammed?

Too Big to Fail?

And, of course, the “savings” in Fed IT aren’t reducing the total IT spend – they’re being ploughed back into IT modernization. If government were a regulated industry, this type of accounting wouldn’t pass the smell test.

GAO Takes the Gloves Off

Dave “Rocky” Powner provided a reality check for the folks ringside. He hit VanRoekel with a series of rib shots – swinging hard at OMB’s $2.5 billion savings. “Based on our work, there are over 200 PortfolioStat initiatives that agencies are working on to eliminate at least $5.5 billion in duplicate spending.” Powner jabbed at the IT Dashboard – noting too many agencies have thrown in the towel on updates. Seems DoD’s listening to GAO. Here’s a DoD memo requiring components to do better on the Dashboard.

To Be Continued…

We followed up with Senator Mikulski’s office to get a sense of plans for next steps.  We hope the Senator plans to take some real action, but know she’s a busy lady.  Action needs to be had – there’s a reason why we don’t have a sequel to Groundhog Day.

50 First Dates

If there’s no accountability, then we’ll see no change – it’s 50 First Dates. And, speaking of dates, if there’s no enforcement, I wouldn’t bother putting next year’s Federal IT appropriations hearing on your calendar. Better to stay home and take in a good movie.

Steve O'Keeffe
About Steve O'Keeffe
The most connected executive in the government technology community – O'Keeffe is an accomplished entrepreneur and tech-policy expert, with 30 years’ experience as an innovator at the crossroads of government and industry. He founded MeriTalk, O'Keeffe & Company, 300Brand, among other entities. O'Keeffe is a fixture on the Hill, in both the House and Senate, testifying on IT, budget, government workforce, and the requirement to modernize government IT to enhance outcomes for the American people and government employees. He is a champion for change, simplification, transparency, and clear communication of IT value without jargon. A committed philanthropist, O'Keeffe has served for 15 years on the USO-Metro Board of Directors – Vice Chairman of the Board and Chair of the Annual Awards Dinner. He started his career as a journalist – O'Keeffe has contributed to The Economist, Government Executive, Signal Magazine, The Washington Post, and, of course, MeriTalk.