$20 billion of the $80 billion per year spent by the government on information technology (IT) is wasted, according to a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday.
The committee held a full hearing to discuss the waste and ways to fight it. Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said that over the past 10 years, federal IT spending has increased by $46 billion.
"This is not a small potatoes item," said Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.).
"When we are wasting money and not using it effectively and efficiency, that’s money that could be used to do some things that we really need to get done," said ranking member Elijah Cummings (D., Md.).
Mica, the incoming chair of the Oversight Committee’s Government Operations Subcommittee, noted some "separate, very costly investments" that could be made more efficient. He said the federal government has bought 622 separate human resource systems, 580 financial management systems, and 777 supply chain management systems.
This duplication is not the only source of government waste, according to Mica. "We also waste money on programs that fail to become fully functional," he said.
Tom Davis, a former congressman who chaired the Oversight Committee, was the first witness. He highlighted problems in the way the government treats IT investment.
IT expenditures are treated as "discretionary spending" instead of a regular investment, Davis said. He further noted that Congress’s recent habit of funding the government through "continuing resolutions" instead of a more predictable budgeting process hurts IT investment.
Davis also brought up the issue of cyber security. "If we don’t get cyber security right, nothing else is going to matter," he said.
Steve VanRoekel, chief information officer for the Office of Management and Budget, and David Powner of the Government Accountability Office testified after Davis.
VanRoekel testified about his efforts to curb and streamline federal IT spending: While it spent $81 billion on IT in 2012, a few years ago it was on track to spend over $100 billion this past year.
Powner’s testimony was not as optimistic. "The government has a poor track record when it comes to managing and delivering IT."
Issa also highlighted the sheer number of chief information officers (CIOs) in the federal government, noting that their prevalence muddles accountability. The Department of Justice, the department with the greatest number of CIOs, has 40, he said. Powner said the government needs to give CIOs more power, especially budgetary power, and do a better job holding them accountable.