Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What's Wrong With the Auditors?

The old question, from the Roman poet Juvenal, is:  "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

Earlier I posted about the new OIG report on FSA's MIDAS project. I've lost track of all the GAO and OIG reports critical of ASCS/FSA/USDA's automation efforts.  Juvenal's question doesn't quite fit--nowadays it implies some misconduct while my point is directed towards effectiveness.

In other words, given all those audit reports you'd think there would be some improvement over the years, but USDA and its agencies still seem to be ineffective in doing large IT projects.  I wonder why?

Some possibilities:
  • IT procurement and development of IT systems keeps getting more complicated, so the bureaucracy's learning curve as embodied in the GAO/OIG reports doesn't gain on the difficulty curve of the projects.
  • the USDA bureaucracy is incapable of learning, maybe because the policy officials turnover too fast, there's no insitutional memory, there's lack of ability or training, or something else.
  • the auditors give bad advice, either misleading the bureaucracy on how to correct the problems or misidentifying the problems
  • Congress fails to do good oversight--using the reports to hold the bureaucrats feet to the fire, or maybe they focus on the wrong issues.
  • Congress fails to provide the money to do well
  • the President and OMB fail to follow through on the reports
  • the IT projects conflict with an outdated orgnaizational structure and culture.
I suspect all of these issues may apply.

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