Sharing services isn’t just a good way for federal departments to lower information technology costs, it’s also a way for underfunded agencies to scratch back some of their dwindling budgets by providing services to their peers, a Customs and Border Protection official said Monday.
CBP’s technology division has lost more than $600 million or about half its operating budget over the past four years as money has been shifted to pay for more border patrol officers, CBP Chief Technology Officer Wolfe Tombe said.
The only way Tombe’s office could absorb those cuts and continue to perform its mission was to ramp up shared services it could offer to other Homeland Security Department divisions for a “charge back” fee, he said.
CBP has developed infrastructure as a service and email as a service products for other Homeland Security divisions to purchase, he said.
Tombe was speaking during a panel discussion at the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s annual Management of Change conference in Cambridge, Md.
Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel launched a shared services strategy in May 2012. He has cited shared infrastructure for commodity IT -- such as computer storage, email and wireless services -- as one of the easiest ways for the government to cut IT costs.
Agencies also may be able to cut costs and earn revenue by managing community clouds, Tombe said.
He is especially interested in developing a shared law enforcement cloud, similar to an intelligence cloud being developed by the CIA and National Security Agency, he said. The cloud would be open to federal state and local law enforcement he said.
Storing information in computer clouds run by Amazon and other companies is typically cheaper for government agencies than storing information in on-site data centers because corporately run clouds can pack information more tightly and achiever larger economies of scale. Government-run clouds use essentially the same principle but at a smaller scale and can make it easier to share information between agencies.
Among the easiest ways to launch a shared service is with a newly adopted tool such as a learning management system that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives purchased to track training and education programs, ATF Chief Information Officer Rick Holgate said during the same panel discussion Monday.
A general lack of learning management systems across the Justice Department made it easier for other divisions to pick up the ATF system, he said.
“Those of us in DoJ who don’t have a strong capability can foresee moving to a shared capability much more readily than if we had something today we were heavily invested in, felt very strongly about or that was a highly capable environment,” Holgate said.
In other cases, Justice has divvied up shared services among divisions with specialized knowledge in a particular service such as ATF with email or the U.S. Marshall’s Service with property management systems, he said.
When the department tried to impose shared financial services tools from the top down, the effort was less successful, Holgate said.
“In an attempt to be accommodating to bureau-level or component-level differences the department allowed some of us to approach financial management in a way that didn’t necessarily maximize the benefit of the shared environment,” Holgate said. “We still retained a little bit of our distinct ways of doing financial management across bureaus which means that inherently the shared service is not quite as shared as it could otherwise be.”