Watchdog laments dearth of information on data center consolidation

Federal CIO says agencies will have better figures to help identify specific savings by this fall.

The Government Accountability Office was "right on" in a recent assessment that insufficient accounting and shoddy information gathering by federal agencies could cut into projected cost savings from a governmentwide data center consolidation effort, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said Wednesday.

Kundra stressed, though, that the GAO report, which was publicly released Tuesday, was done in the middle of a massive effort to shut down or consolidate inefficient data centers, not at its end or at a natural breaking point.

The numbers GAO is after should all be out and compiled by Oct. 7, Kundra said, when agencies are scheduled to release the most detailed plans to date for precisely which data centers will be shut down by 2015, along with information about cost and energy savings from each closure.

Kundra has pledged to close about 800 of the roughly 2,100 federal data centers by 2015, part of a multitiered plan to simplify and reform information technology governmentwide.

The federal CIO has said his office expects to save the government about $3 billion over five years from the consolidation, but specifics about the source of those savings have been difficult to come by.

As of April, agencies had earmarked only about 650 of the 800 data centers to be shuttered and had identified about $700 million in savings, according to the GAO report, which was released to congressional requestors July 19.

GAO did not suggest the government would not be able to meet its projected savings by 2015, but noted a disconnect between Office of Management and Budget timelines for the closure process and agencies' ability to gather necessary data may lead to inefficiencies in the consolidation process and lost opportunities for savings.

The $700 million figure is likely low even for the 652 data centers slated for closure because the figures -- at their best -- include projected savings only from energy and buildings operations, not from other sources such as reduced equipment use. The projected savings from some centers were even less complete, GAO said.

All but one of 24 affected agencies failed to give OMB the full slate of data center information it requested before a September 2010 deadline, GAO said. Those were the reports OMB used to establish its initial consolidation goals.

Among the affected agencies, 14 failed to provide a complete list of their data centers; 15 did not provide a complete list of software assets and inventories; 12 failed to address cost-benefit calculations in their reports; and nine did not address risk management, according to GAO.

The report also dinged OMB for not insisting that agencies verify all data they report to the office. Officials at some agencies told GAO investigators they had independently verified data before they submitted their reports to OMB but officials at other agencies said their information had not been verified.

Officials at the Defense Department, by far the largest owner of federal data centers, said they had not independently verified data center information they handed in.

"Until these inventories and plans are complete, agencies may not be able to implement their consolidation activities or to realize expected cost savings," the report said. "Moreover, without an understanding of the validity of agencies' consolidation data, OMB cannot be assured that agencies are providing a sound baseline for estimating consolidation savings and measuring progress against those goals."

Of 24 agencies involved in the consolidation initiative, 19 told GAO they were having trouble gathering data center power usage information; 11 said they were having trouble generally meeting OMB scheduling deadlines; another 11 said they were struggling to obtain funding for consolidation efforts; and nine said they were unsure how they'd maintain operations during the consolidation process, GAO said.

The GAO report was requested by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., the chairman and ranking member of the panel's subcommittee on financial management.

Kundra, the nation's first CIO, plans to leave his post in August to take a fellowship at Harvard University. President Obama has not yet named a successor.