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VanRoekel Revamps IT Portfolio Review Process

Caitlin Fairchild/Nextgov.com

The White House is revamping its initiative to streamline how federal agencies buy information technology. The PortfolioStat program so far has saved the government roughly $300 million since it was launched one year ago this month, federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel told Nextgov in an interview Wednesday.

His office expects the savings will grow significantly by 2015 to $2.5 billion, VanRoekel said. 

During its first year, PortfolioStat focused primarily on changing how federal agencies purchase IT commodities such as Internet and mobile phone service. During its second year, the program will expand to focus on streamlining technology operations and ensuring agency-level CIOs have sufficient authority, VanRoekel told Nextgov.

Version two of PortfolioStat will also roll in the government’s four-year-old data center consolidation initiative and refocus that project on making data center operations cheaper and more energy efficient rather than simply shuttering as many data centers as possible, VanRoekel said.

“PortfolioStat is really about coming in and looking comprehensively across the landscape of IT inside agencies,” he said. “It’s about how you are using IT to meet the mission of your agencies.”

VanRoekel outlined the key focus areas for the updated PortfolioStat in a memo co-authored with acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients and published Wednesday afternoon. 

The new plan distinguishes between “core data centers” and “non-core data centers.” While OMB will still hold agencies accountable for shuttering 40 percent or more of their non-core data centers, it will also evaluate agencies on the extent to which they optimize core data centers for “total cost of ownership,” the memo said.

“The problem when you focus on closures is it doesn’t incentivize the agency to do the right thing relative to optimizing and lowering costs and rationalizing applications,” VanRoekel said. “An agency could pack a bunch of small data centers into a big room and call that consolidation without thinking about ‘how am I lowering my power footprint? How am I lowering cost? How am I getting a better total cost of ownership?’”

Core data centers will primarily be ones that are already the most energy efficient and are equipped with energy meters, VanRoekel said.

The OMB memo directs agencies to give more power to CIOs, noting that “agencies without an empowered CIO regularly lack a complete and accurate inventory of IT assets and services (including mission systems) across the enterprise.”

“This lack of visibility reduces agencies’ capacity to consolidate redundant applications, promote modular development, use enterprise license agreements, and migrate to a service orientation,” the memo said.

The memo stops short of suggesting that CIOs should have authority to move funds between IT programs within their agencies. CIO budget authority is a key component of bipartisan IT reform legislation sponsored by House Oversight Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., ranking member of the committee's government operations panel. The Federal IT Reform Act was passed by the oversight committee earlier this month and is awaiting action by the full House.

Budget authority might be appropriate for some agency CIOs, VanRoekel said Wednesday, but it’s less important than ensuring that CIOs have a seat at the table during major budget and mission discussions with agency leaders.

“What I’ve learned on the job is that every agency is different and what ends up being the highest necessity is not who owns the checkbook from the authority standpoint but what sort of governance process do you have at the top level of the agency,” he said. “If you go to Fortune 500 companies and sit down with their C-level executive team, you’ll find it matters very little who holds the pen on budget approval. What matters a lot is the structure of the investment review board.”

Wednesday’s memo also consolidates into three main reports a number of IT reports agencies were previously required to submit to OMB annually or quarterly. The first round of new reports will be due May 15. 

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