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IT reforms save taxpayers $3 billion in less than five months, fed CIO says

The Obama administration's drive to make government IT projects more responsive to changes in technology and less reliant on bulky, outdated infrastructure has saved about $3 billion in its first five months, the federal chief information officer told a Senate panel Tuesday.

Since December 2010, when he introduced President Obama's 25-point plan for reforming federal IT, CIO Vivek Kundra's office has reviewed 50 of the government's 300 most troubled IT projects, canceling four and fundamentally reforming 11 others, Kundra told members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee's panel on federal financial management.

Kundra's office expects to use its review of the first 50 projects to create a dashboard of lessons learned to evaluate the remaining 250 troubled projects, he said, and to establish best practices for future government IT projects.

The 25-point plan requires IT project managers to show significant gains for their agencies within six months. If not, the projects should be retooled or shut down.

One major canceled project was the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System, which Kundra's office recommended dropping recently after 12 years of development and nearly $1 billion in funding.

Despite that massive investment, the project simply was outpaced by private sector technology too many times to be useful, Kundra told the senators.

"The government needs to operate much more like a nimble startup," he said, "instead of investing billions of dollars in multiyear procurements."

The DIMHRS program was also indicative, Kundra said, of a government predisposition to build its own technology infrastructure rather than use cheaper, private sector alternatives that can adapt more rapidly to changes in technology and security.

Kundra's office so far has identified 75 agency IT systems that are ripe to be moved to privately owned data clouds, which will save the government money on infrastructure and maintenance, he said.

The General Services Administration's move to cloud computing will save it about $1.7 billion annually in computing costs, GSA Associate Administrator David McClure testified. The change also has made GSA's online presence more responsive, allowing the agency to update Web features in "hours rather than weeks or months," McClure said, and has freed up staff time that was once devoted to basic site maintenance.

Kundra's office also has identified about 100 federal data centers that are likely to be closed. Data centers are government-owned rooms packed with computer servers that store agency data. The number of such centers ballooned more than 400 percent in the past 12 years as government information storage moved online. The 25-point plan requires shuttering 800 of the roughly 2,100 nationwide federal data centers by 2015 and consolidating the remaining centers, or moving them to the cloud.

Kundra told subcommittee chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and ranking member Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., his office's main focus in the next six months will be an initiative to reform congressional appropriation procedures to divvy up IT money at the agency level, rather than at the project level, which he said promotes unnecessary duplication.

That initiative has been delayed by the intense battles over the 2011 and 2012 budgets, according to Kundra.

The siloed approach to IT funding has resulted in massive redundancies in federal IT programs, McClure said. There are about 600 human resources software systems across the federal government and 200 financial management systems, he added.

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