Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Senate Bill S.3384

In reading Michael Krigsman's blog, I was introduced to Senate bill S.3384, "Information Technology Investment Oversight Enhancement and Waste Prevention Act of 2008." The bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on 10/1/08.

This bill was introduced by Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) and cosponsored by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Sen Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH). The bipartisan support (two democrats, two republicans, and an independent) in itself makes the bill noteworthy.

The bill requires that any government IT investment project that has "significantly deviated" from its projections must be reported up the command chain, ultimately ending with the responsible CIO. Any project that is off its projections by more than 20% is considered "significantly deviated." Projects that are in "gross deviation" are further reported to the appropriate congressional committee. "Gross deviation" is considered more than a 40% deviation from its projections.

Deviations are measured relative to the Earned Value Management (EVM) benchmark. This benchmark includes timely measures for project expenditure, project completion, and project deliverables.

S.3884 requires that this reporting be done on a quarterly basis. This means that deviations must be measured (and reported) long before the project is actually completed.

State governments often follow the lead of the federal government, especially in "watch-dog" type legislation. Therefore it seems likely that S.3884 may have an impact beyond just the federal government and into all areas of the public sector.

EVM benchmarks are highly dependent on the ability of an organization to accurately forecast both deliverables and costs. These are both areas in which the government has historically been weak. I have frequently written about governmental IT projects that have gone under-promise, over-budget, past-due, or all of the above. If S.3884 is going to be successful, it will require a major new approach in how government does IT.

The biggest problem that the government has with IT is its chronic failure to manage complexity. The more complex a project, the harder it is to project cost and predict deliverables, two absolute requirements for an EVM analysis. There is no possible way that S.3384 can be implemented successfully unless the government first takes steps to understand and manage IT complexity.

I strongly support any requirement that the government do a better job with IT. But I think the Senate needs to be realistic. Passing S.3384 without giving governmental IT bodies the tools they need to address IT complexity is setting them up for failure.

Let's phase in S.3384. First, introduce SIP (or some other equivalent methodology) to the government to show how highly complex systems can be organized as much smaller, simpler, autonomous systems. Then hold the government accountable for how it delivers those simpler systems.

If the government takes the two steps of IT complexity management and IT accountability. we can transform how the government does IT. We will have a government that delivers IT projects on-time, on-budget, and meeting the needs of the citizens that pay for those projects. That is you and me.


Michael Krigsman said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post on this important issue. I was surprised that a number of commenters on my original post were so negative on this initiative. The bill is certainly not a panacea, but it is an important step in recognizing that failed IT is a serious problem of substantial consequence.

Roger Sessions said...

Thank you, Michael, for bringing this to our attention.