Dashboard Info Prompts VA to Hit the Brakes

A project by the nation's Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, has lead to the suspension of some 45 information technology (IT) projects at the Veterans Administration. Unveiled earlier this month, the “'IT Dashboard' is a new, one-stop clearinghouse of information that allows anyone with a web browser to track federal IT initiatives..."

Less than a month after the beta version was available to the public, Kundra's effort is already having the intended effect: to identify IT money pits in the bureaucracy as means to bring accountability to federal IT spending.

In preparing data for the so-called IT Dashboard, a site that offers a window into the complex and costly process of procuring government IT services, VA officials discovered problems with some of the agency's IT projects. For example, while sifting through the data, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and CIO Roger Baker learned that a scheduling project was running 17 months behind schedule, Kundra said.

Shinseki and Baker announced on Friday that they temporarily stopped development of 45 projects that are either behind schedule or over budget to determine if they should be canceled or salvaged.

There are two reasons why IT endeavors at the VA have gotten out of control:

  1. The VA staff that had the power to shut down the troubled projects were unaware of them
  2. The VA staff that had the power to shut down the troubled projects were aware of the problems, but decided to keep them running anyway

And, there are two reasons why those 45 troubled projects have been suspended:

  1. VA Secretary Shinseki and/or its CIO Roger Baker were unaware of the troubled projects, and Kundra's IT Dashboard brought the attention of Shinseki and/or Baker to the projects, at which point Shinseki and/or Baker immediately shut them down
  2. VA Secretary Shinseki and/or its CIO Roger Baker knew of the troubled projects and decided to keep them running, but it became clear that Kundra's IT Dashboard would bring unwanted attention of the media and/or government watchdogs to the projects

But, regardless of the causes for the out-of-control projects or their suspensions, Kundra's IT Dashboard is an effective illustration of how transparency can bring accountability to federal spending. Now, imagine if this sort of transparency was applied to say, the Recovery Act or TARP or all of federal spending.

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