Who's To Blame When IT Systems Fail?

Joseph Marks | Nextgov | October 11, 2013

When it comes to government technology, assigning responsibility can be tricky.

Take the new email system the General Services Administration launched in 2011. GSA Chief Information Officer Casey Coleman appeared to be on the hook for that one. Click on any GSA project on the Federal IT Dashboard, a website that tracks government spending, and Coleman’s picture is right next to a table of performance metrics. The buck stops here, that photo seems to say. Don't like how your email is performing? Give Coleman a call.

The real story is more complicated. First, the vast majority of GSA's 17,000 employees don't work for Coleman, so for the system to have any chance of succeeding she needed buy-in from leaders of GSA's Public Buildings Service, Federal Acquisition Service and various smaller divisions.

And Coleman—like all government technology chiefs, with the exception of the Veterans Affairs Department’s acting CIO, Stephen Warren—doesn’t actually control her agency’s information technology budget. She wields a lot of influence, but if a project goes off the rails she needs authorization from other agency leaders to rework or kill the contract.