CCAGW Outlines Concerns with S. 3890 | Council For Citizens Against Government Waste

CCAGW Outlines Concerns with S. 3890

Letters to Officials

May 25, 2022

Chairman Gary C. Peters
Ranking Member Rob Portman

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.  20510

Dear Chairman Peters and Ranking Member Portman,

On May 25, 2022, you will be holding a markup of S. 3890, the Improving Intergovernmental Cooperation and Reducing Duplication Act of 2022.  On behalf of the more than one million members and supporters of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, I would like to express our concerns over some of the provisions in the bill.

            We are particularly concerned about Section 324 (b), Authority To Provide Services To State, Local, Territorial, And Tribal Governments.  This section is purportedly intended to improve intergovernmental cooperation and sharing of information and program benefits between the federal government and state, local, territorial, and tribal (SLTT) governments, but it would allow the federal government to develop IT solutions for SLTTs to modernize their IT systems, even if commercial and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products are readily available.  Given the abysmal history of wasteful IT development projects across many federal agencies, such a venture would be a costly mistake for taxpayers. 

            In 2015, the Government Accountability Office included for the first time improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations on its biannual High-Risk List.  According to the report, “federal IT investments too frequently fail or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes.”  During fiscal year 2015, 51 federal agencies spent more than 90 percent of their IT budget on operations and maintenance.  Among the taxpayer-supported legacy systems were two 56-year-old Department of Treasury Master File systems; a 51-year-old Department of Veterans Affairs system used to track veterans’ benefits; and a 53-year-old Department of Defense system used to coordinate the operation function of the nuclear forces, which ran on an IBM Series/1 computer and used 8-inch floppy disks for storage.  Other systems were written in assembly language code, and many used COBOL, a programming language developed in the 1950s and 60s. 

            While Congress has encouraged federal agencies to modernize existing IT systems, much work remains to be done.  Giving any federal entity the authority to develop IT systems for SLTTs would divert resources and time away from high priority items like the Cerner Millennium Electronic Health Records system for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, which would allow the exchange of health records between the two agencies allowing for improved continuation of care for our nation’s servicemembers, and act as a replacement platform for the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA) and the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (ViSTA) health records systems at the two agencies, following decades of Congress demanding that servicemembers’ health records be interoperable between the two agencies.

            Other examples of agency IT ineptitude include the Internal Revenue Service.  In 2002, the IRS tried to create its own tax preparation program called Cyberfile at a cost of $17 million.  The program never worked and was never necessary since similar programs already existed in the private sector.  The IRS eventually worked with tax preparation firms H&R Block and Jackson-Hewitt to develop an e-file system, and in 2003, the IRS partnered with the Free File Alliance, a consortium of tax software companies, to make free tax preparation software and free e-file available to individual taxpayers.  The Free File process continues to work well for tax filers and has saved taxpayers from paying for the IRS to develop its own systems.

            CCAGW appreciates the effort your committee is making to assist SLTTs in modernizing their IT systems.  However, in most instances, there are commercial or COTS solutions available to help meet the technology needs of SLTTs.  Federal agencies should be discouraged from wasting taxpayer resources attempting to duplicate what is already available and customizable to meet the specific needs of each SLTT.  We ask that the committee impose guardrails around any funding or procurement mechanism to prevent federal agencies from duplicating IT systems that are already available for purchase from a commercial or COTs vendor.

Sincerely,

Tom Schatz
President, CCAGW 

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