The Department of Defense needs to improve its policies for managing and overseeing what it classifies as major automated information systems (MAIS), according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The report found that the policies dictating the Defense Department’s 10 MAIS business programs do not meet industry standards for providing performance data. These standards ensure that projects are keeping to their initial cost estimates, schedules, and performance goals. An IT program is designated as a MAIS when its single year costs exceed $40 million, its total acquisition costs exceed $165 million, or its total life-cycle costs exceed $520 million.

Among the programs the GAO studied was the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Service, or CANES, the Navy’s long-term plan to deploy an advanced at-sea network on board its warships and at coastal facilities. The GAO identified the program as 2.5 years behind schedule and attributed the delay to a prolonged maintenance period and a lengthy budget approval process. That’s a six month slip from last year’s report, which estimated the program was about two years behind schedule.

To date, the CANES program has come in nearly $350 million under budget, while meeting eight out of its nine original performance targets. The GAO attributed cost reductions to changes in program scopes. The program was first announced in 2011 with an acquisition baseline of $12.7 billion.

However, the report took issue with the Navy’s risk management efforts in the CANES system program. Specifically, the GAO criticized the Navy for ignoring potential environmental hazards that could negatively affect the program, a best practice in information technology investment management. The report cited a Navy official who claimed such risks were “understood” but left undocumented in the program plan.

The GAO report issued three recommendations to the Pentagon, including that the Secretary of the Navy direct the CANES program manager to identify potential environmental issues that could negatively affect the program’s efforts.

In a written response, the Department of Defense ultimately concurred with the GAO recommendation, while noting that CANES is “designed to operate within the hulls of Navy Ships and Submarines, thereby benefiting from the structural protections against most external environmental issues.”

The estimated completion date for the CANES program is now October 2018, according to the Navy’s statement to the GAO.

The GAO also studied programs’ performance efficiency by analyzing a sample of 15 of the Defense Department’s 34 business and non-business MAIS programs. The congressional watchdog found that although all 15 of the programs had either increased or decreased their planned cost estimates and a majority had delays in their scheduled estimates, most of the programs with performance goals met them.

“The delays were caused by unrealistic expectations or unplanned changes. Six of the nine programs that had performance targets met all of them, while the other 3 met several but not all of their performance targets,” the GAO wrote.

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