recommended reading

One Year After Launch, Cloud Security Initiative Has Its First Taker

Maksim Kabakou/

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which began operating in early June 2012 and is aimed at simplifying the purchase of online software, has attracted its first buyer: the Health and Human Services Department. Now, FedRAMP has another 12 months to prove to all agencies and vendors how easy and cost-effective it is to reuse other agencies’ security assessments -- in this first case, HHS’s evaluation of cloud provider Amazon Web Services. 

Government and industry have always described the program as “a crawl, walk, run” exercise.

By June 2014, all cloud suppliers that want to sell to the government, including Google, Salesforce and Microsoft, are required to demonstrate they have met a standard set of security controls defined by FedRAMP. But just once. Currently, most agencies perform their own tests for each service, forcing vendors to undergo multiple assessments. 

Federal officials, on Tuesday, announced that Amazon's US-based data centers meet FedRAMP’s one-size-fits-all specifications for data storage, processing and protection. Now, any agency inside or outside Health and Human Services, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Defense Department, can, for example, host a website in the Amazon cloud. 

The approach holds the promise of saving federal employees time and saving taxpayers up to $200,000 per service. The expectation is that all agencies will trust a Web service’s reliability after reading that single assessment. Meanwhile, authorized providers -- as of now only Amazon, Autonomic Resources and CGI Federal -- benefit by becoming immediately eligible to install services at any agency. Vendors can obtain a FedRAMP seal of approval even if they don't have a prospective federal customer by working through the General Services Administration, which manages the program. 

HHS is testing the waters for other cabinet-level departments and federal organizations. And that's the whole point. Once one agency uses a FedRAMP authorized cloud service, any agency can piggyback off the same security assessment and even contracting language. 

The department and Amazon were able to create a recyclable assessment within six months, said Jennifer Gray, HHS information security specialist, because of "the collaborative nature" of working with the provider and agencies departmentwide. As is required of all applicants, Amazon's facilities and operations also were scrutinized by an independent accredited auditor. 

Aspiring suppliers who are not working with an agency might need between nine and 15 months to complete an authorization, because GSA has fewer resources to commit to each vendor, FedRAMP program manager Matthew Goodrich said. "Agencies have a much better ability to get them through the process," he said. 

FedRAMP, in general, has limited bandwidth. GSA in March said the government would stop recruiting auditors until the fall, while shifting the responsibility for vetting inspectors to a private accreditation board. To date, 19 auditors have been approved. More than 100 vendors are interested in earning a FedRAMP endorsement, but only three have done so.

On Tuesday, HHS officials said they coordinated closely with GSA and Amazon to apply the requisite security controls. The approach allowed all HHS components to reuse the authorization "and thereby reduce duplicative efforts, inconsistencies, and cost inefficiencies associated with current security authorization processes," HHS Chief Information Security Officer Kevin Charest said in a statement. 

Amazon officials said their service’s security documentation is immediately available for other agencies to review. "With this FedRAMP certification, agencies can now utilize a streamlined process from [Amazon] when moving applications to the cloud to meet their unique business and mission requirements,” Teresa Carlson, Amazon Web Services vice president for the worldwide public sector, said in a statement.

Gray and Goodrich will discuss this first case study further on Thursday at a breakfast hosted by Nextgov

(Image via Maksim Kabakou/

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.