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Here’s a Cloud Guide Written by Feds for Feds. Will the White House Listen?

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Several dozen federal technologists, chief information officers and acquisition experts have developed a guidebook for how agencies ought to pursue cloud-based solutions.

Nextgov obtained a draft copy of the guide, which was authored in partnership with an interagency group comprised of tech leaders from the Defense Department, Federal Communications Commission, General Services Administration and other agencies.

The stated purpose of the CASTLE (short for Cloud Acquisition Professionals Cloud Adoption Survival Tips, Lessons, and Experiences) guide is to “allow agencies to mitigate and smooth the acquisition process, thus increasing adoption of cloud services within the federal government.”

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At more than 20,000 words, the guidebook contains granular analysis and nuanced discussion regarding various approaches, frameworks and implementations agencies have used toward procuring cloud services. Users can navigate the document based on various conditions, such as funding models, and view acquisition information and possible frameworks associated with each.

Members have been sharing the draft with federal technology and industry leaders in an effort to solicit further feedback, improve upon the draft and attract attention and buy-in from the White House in hopes of driving new policy measures.

“I'm not saying I'm going to stand outside Jared Kushner's house until he gets a copy, but the narrative we've created in this guide needs the audience and support of the Office of Management and Budget and groups like the White House Office of American Innovation,” said Sarah Millican, a digital strategy adviser for the FCC’s Office of the CIO and outreach leader for the interagency Cloud Computing Center of Excellence. “This guide was created because we thought the 'modernizing legacy IT in government' ball should've been further down the field.”

Millican told Nextgov the guide book's goal—to help government modernize its systems more quickly—mirrors broader initiatives put forth by the Jared Kushner-led White House Office of American Innovation. Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, has described the new office as a “SWAT team” for government efficiency and has used the White House’s convening power to gather feedback from tech industry CEOs.

This input, however, comes from civil servants who’ve been tackling cloud computing projects since cloud became a thing and whose battle to modernize government from the trenches goes back more than a decade, according to David Bray.

“This is the trench-level implementer’s perspective, and we’re sharing it upward,” said Bray, who has served as executive chairman of the interagency group since its inception. With Bray’s recent exit to the private sector, Chad Sheridan, CIO at the Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency, is expected to take on the role in late September.

Succinctly, Sheridan described the document as a “research-driven guide addressing the hurdles the federal government faces when trying to modernize legacy IT.” He said it establishes a common vocabulary for sometimes nebulous concepts like cloud, acquisition and security, and allows feds testing the cloud services waters to review pros, cons, challenges and possible solutions to various approaches they might take. It also provides perspectives relevant for various personnel in the technology procurement chain, including program managers, executives and acquisition staff.

“The agency may then leverage the information provided within the guide as acquisition-based guidance, but will need to tailor and supplement the information. The guide takes a narrow scope which includes targeted acquisition based topics that have proven to be problematic in the procurement of cloud computing services,” the draft document states. “Agency stakeholders are able to match key attributes of their agency’s expected situation to attributes of the provided scenarios that illuminates potential guidelines, considerations, and a path forward for their agency.”

Trump’s budget proposal calls for an increase in cloud spending, allocating $8.5 billion of a total $95.7 billion federal IT budget for provisioned services such as cloud computing. Yet that’s a paltry amount compared to the 75 percent of the IT budget that the Government Accountability Office estimates agencies will spend on aging, legacy IT systems. Many mission-critical IT systems across government are more than 40 years old.

Yet even as the federal cloud computing market has grown, agencies have been far less aggressive in adopting cloud services than private-sector counterparts. The CASTLE guide addresses several barriers to the government realizing cloud computing’s potential to reduce IT spend and reduce reliance on old data centers.

This guide addresses the ambiguity over cloud computing’s definition, disconnect over how providers market cloud services to government customers, and explains security and consumption-based pricing models previously foreign to government.

Yet the draft document indicates most challenges “are not technical in nature, but the result of cultural constraints.”

In the coming weeks, the interagency group plans to begin soliciting feedback from cloud service vendors and industry representatives. On Sept. 27, the group plans to host a working-group meeting, inviting government members and industry reps to discuss next steps.

Representation from the White House would be welcome, Millican said.

She, along with Bray and others, have suggested the government ought to aim to move 75 percent or more of its civilian IT systems to the cloud by 2019.

“For [the White House] to join up with GSA and tackle this moon-shot of a goal for government to be 75 percent cloud in two or three years would be a game-changer,” Millican said.

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