Is It Time to Repeal Clinger/Cohen?

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This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Bill Brantley 8 years, 9 months ago.

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  • #102586

    Peter Sperry

    Yesterday, OMB Director Peter Orzag identified obsolete IT infrastructure as a major limitation for government executives. From what I’ve seen, a great deal of our problem deploying new IT solutions stems from the long, cumbersome, overly bureaucratic IT investment process required under the Clinger/Cohen act of 1996. The legislation was passed largely in reaction to the multi-billion dollar failure of an IT investment project at the FBI in the early 90s. The intent was good but essentially it was a 1980s style solution to a 1970s style problem applied in the 1990s and totally out of step with how IT solutions need to be deployed in the 21st century. Clinger/Cohen imposes an IT acquisition process which is so long it almost guarantees federal IT will be 6 to 24 months obsloete on the day it is deployed. C/C also requires, or at least strongly encourages, extensive architectures and alternative analysis before making even the most trivial decisions. It is not uncommon to spend as much or more money on the analysis as on the final system. Finally, meeting C/C requirments mean midgrade and senior executives spend as much of their time in IT related meetings as they do on their core mission. The financial cost of all this has been going through the ceiling for the past decade and we are falling further and further behind the private sector. (I say this as one of those feds who has a whole lot more computing power in my home office than in my work office.) So is it time to trot up to the Hill and suggest they repeal or rewrite Clinger/Cohen?

  • #102590

    Bill Brantley

    It isn’t just government executives who are hampered by obsolete IT infrastructure; it’s everyone in the Federal government. We need standards and processes for building the IT infrastructure but we also need to recognize the new agile development methods. Clinger/Cohen is just no longer relevant and needs to be replaced with a law that gives the requisite flexibility to change as the technology changes.

  • #102588

    Christopher Hanks

    Peter (and Bill),

    Yes, it is most definitely time to repeal the Clinger-Cohen Act.

    The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 passed because of lobbying by the GAO, which first began calling for the use of “integrated architectures” in 1992.

    Why did GAO do that?

    Because it was the only way the government was ever going to be able to produce consolidated financial statements for itself that could win unqualified opinions from auditors, as if the government were a big, profit-seeking business like, say, General Electric Corporation. Such statements are required by the CFO Act of 1990, another result of GAO lobbying. (Auditors of the consolidated financial statements for big, multi-division businesses, like GE, have to be able to construct audit trails, which requires “integrated” financial systems. The problem, of course, is that the DOD is not – and never has been – a “business.”)

    For a scholarly review of the above history – the bottom line of which is that GAO management ideas have done enormous (and enormously expensive) damage to government operations over the last 20 years – see my paper “Financial Accountability at the DOD: Reviewing the Bidding,” published in the July 2009 issue of the Defense Acquisition Review Journal and available in its entirety at:

    Don’t give up – you’re on to something really important here!

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