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Watchdog: Agencies Aren’t Even Trying To Meet Data Center Optimization Goals

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Most agencies aren’t even trying to meet White House goals for using data centers more efficiently, a watchdog report concludes.

A 2016 Office of Management and Budget mandate requires federal agencies to revisit their data center strategies and look for ways to save money, fortify their cybersecurity, and, when appropriate, transition data to the cloud. But 17 of 22 agencies weren’t planning to meet goals for data center optimization by OMB’s September 2018 goal, despite legislation passed in 2014 that requires them to report on those efforts, the Government Accountability Office concluded.

If agencies aren’t optimizing their data center usage, “there is a fundamental question: Should a lot of these agencies be maintaining their own data centers?” Dave Powner, GAO’s director of IT, told Nextgov. “For many of them, I think the answer is no.”

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An alternative approach might be to outsource some of that maintenance, and invest more in cloud, he explained.

The 2014 Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act aims to give federal chief information officers more authority over their agencies’ budget and directs agencies to report their progress in consolidating inefficient data centers to OMB. The latter provision is set to expire Oct. 1, 2018, the day after agencies were supposed to meet OMB goals in categories such as energy metering and power usage effectiveness.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-VA, who sponsored FITARA, called GAO’s findings “disappointing but not surprising.” Connolly urged Congress to pass the FITARA Enhancement Act, which would extend data center consolidation reporting and other provisions. The bill has two paths forward: a standalone version that passed the House Oversight and Government Reform committee by voice vote in July or as an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

After conducting the report, GAO also recommended Congress extend those provisions.

The Trump administration’s first broad technology modernization plan also proposes further consolidating federal data centers and opting instead for commercial cloud technology. In a draft of its inaugural report, the White House’s American Technology Council recommended agencies share more services across government instead of purchasing them individually.

Only four of 24 required agencies had implemented tools that could measure their server use, GAO found. Eighteen hadn’t yet set up a system and didn’t have fully documented plans to do so. Two—the Housing and Urban Development and the Education departments—don’t have agency-owned data centers.

Agencies’ failure to meet OMB targets could mean the government won’t realize the $2.7 billion in cost savings the data center optimization plan was designed to bring about, GAO concluded.

Powner said he was pleased to see the American Technology Council report acknowledge FITARA and the data center optimization effort, but that “we are very good at strategies and plans, and not so good in implementation.”

A key factor determining whether these plans can come to fruition, he said, is making sure federal agencies have chief information officers in place—many have people in acting roles until Trump decides to fill them—and that whoever fills the federal CIO position champions those plans.

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