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GAO to Agencies: Get a Data Center Plan

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If data center consolidation across the federal government was a classroom group project, a few bright students would be doing all the work.

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, four agencies—the departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security and Treasury—have accounted for $2 billion of the government’s $2.3 billion in consolidation savings since 2012.

Another four agencies—Defense and Treasury (again), and the Interior and Agriculture departments—have closed 84 percent of the 4,388 shuttered data centers so far.  

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These agencies get high marks, according to GAO data, while most of the rest of the CFO Act agency class essentially get an "incomplete" grade because they aren’t meeting or haven’t bothered to complete strategic plans mandated by the Data Center Optimization Initiative.

That’s led to the federal government vastly underreporting planned savings for fiscal years 2016 to 2018. In total, 23 agencies collectively estimate just $656 million over the 3-year period. Further, 11 agencies showed reporting discrepancies topping $1.5 billion, "in part to weaknesses in the Office of Management and Budget’s oversight of agencies’ savings information and their DCOI strategic plans.”

“This is about $3.3 billion less than the estimated $4 billion in planned savings that agencies reported to GAO in November 2015,” the GAO report states.

Officials at GAO, including Director of IT Management Issues Dave Powner, have been touting the troubling statistics within this report for a while.

In March, Powner warned that agencies—while improving—still weren’t fully following provisions mandated by the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act and that those provisions are set to expire in 2018.

Powner said if agencies can’t get their acts together with regards to data center optimization in the next few years, they might be better off partnering with commercial providers to store data and host applications for them.

“If agencies can’t optimize these data centers by 2020, 10 years into it, should they be in the business of maintaining data centers?” said Powner, referencing technologies like cloud computing.

As it has several times before, GAO made recommendations to OMB to shore up its oversight and for agencies to properly complete their DCOI plans.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was one of two agencies to disagree with GAO's recommendations, saying it had properly completed its DCOI plan. GAO did not agree with NRC’s assessment. USDA also disagreed with GAO’s recommendation on grounds it fully completely the plan. However, GAO took issue because it said Agriculture did not make the plan publicly available.

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