Capitol Close Up

Federal agencies will spend more than $74 billion on information technology projects this fiscal year, but much of that investment is either over budget, behind schedule or results in  duplicated efforts that waste billions of dollars, lawmakers and government officials said Tuesday.

These inefficiencies were the impetus for a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is focusing on how the government can reform its IT strategy to potentially save billions of dollars a year.

Lawmakers in both parties blamed much of the waste on poor oversight over major projects and a slow-to-react bureaucracy that leaves IT managers without authority to make spending decisions.

“They’re sitting out there and in many cases they’re toothless tigers,” former representative Thomas M. Davis said of the chief information officers in charge of computer projects at many agencies. “What you need are lines of authority and decisionmakers.”

Davis, a Northern Virginia Republican who is now director of federal government affairs at  Deloitte, is a former oversight committee chairman who was called to testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

The current committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said experts estimate that as much as $20 billion in federal IT funding is wasted every year. About $54 billion is budgeted to operate and maintain existing investments.

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel testified on several projects that the Obama administration has launched to save money, including a process called PortfolioStat, in which agencies review their technology spending to find duplication and areas to consolidate.

But the Government Accountability Office has found in several recent audits that the government lacks adequate oversight over many big-ticket projects. It has been slow, for example, to consolidate underused and costly data centers.

Issa has proposed draft legislation that would change how the government procures IT and strengthen the authority of chief information officers.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va) expects to be a chief co-sponsor of the bill. “Government is slow to pull the plug when we do make a mistake,” Connolly said at Tuesday’s hearing. “We need to give more flexibility to government managers.”