Three federal departments — Defense, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services — spent more than $312 million on duplicative IT projects over a five-year span, according to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office.
While that’s a lot of money, it would be a mistake to interpret the findings as a major indictment of governmentwide efforts to share services. In fact, the case for shared services has never been stronger.
As the GAO report suggests, the need for shared services remains high. Agencies have many overlapping requirements and systems. Finding ways to eliminate redundant systems and take advantage of enterprise efforts across agencies and departments is essential to improving efficiency and reducing unnecessary expenditures. Several efforts across government have experienced encouraging success.
On the Right Track
One of the largest shared systems in government is the Defense Department’s Enterprise Email system. The Army earlier this year completed its migration to the system, which serves 1.5 million users and is operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency.
Despite several delays that hampered the program throughout the Army’s migration, the project was successful enough that Defense CIO Teri Takai mandated all military services and agencies — totaling roughly 4.5 million users — to move to the system by 2015. Having a single system is expected to reduce costs while yielding operational benefits such as improved security and collaboration.
The Office of Management and Budget, which launched its Shared-First Initiative under federal CIO Steven VanRoekel in October 2011, has let agencies know that they can share more than just email or human resources systems. For example, in addition to sharing services such as web hosting and help desk operations, the Commerce Department has established a single contract for purchasing computers. Simon Szykman, the department’s CIO, told FedTech that he expects to save millions by having agencies share purchasing vehicles.
Knowing the Score
The Federal CIO Council’s Shared Services Subcommittee has established a website within the MAX.gov internal government collaboration site to highlight efforts to share services. Known as Uncle Sam’s List, the site provides information about providers, areas for sharing services and contracting vehicles. It’s another resource agencies can take advantage of as they follow the Shared-First mandate.
The Federal Shared Services Strategy, which OMB released in 2012, outlines a phased approach to implementing efforts to share IT services, under which agencies would crawl, walk and then run. Different programs have achieved varying levels of success in this regard, but it’s clear that agencies should keep moving forward.