Data Center Consolidation Savings ‘Minimal’ So Far

The government has kept insufficient metrics on savings and is unlikely to meet its goal of $3 billion in savings by 2015.

An initiative to consolidate federal data centers has yielded minimal savings so far and the government is unlikely to meet its goal of $3 billion in savings by 2015, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Tuesday.

Agencies have also failed to adequately report on their data center cost savings and officials at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration have done too little to force that reporting, David Powner, GAO’s director of information technology issues, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s panel on Government Operations.  

Only five of 24 federal agencies have reported estimated data center consolidation savings through 2014 and those savings total less than $700 million, according to documents provided by the subcommittee.

The proposed savings will come from moving government data to computer clouds and using more efficient data centers that burn less energy and consume less real estate.

The White House is likely to reach its goal of $3 billion in data center savings but not by the planned date of 2015, Powner testified. His chief criticism of Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative leaders was not that they’d botched the initiative itself but that, lacking adequate data they were unlikely to wring all possible savings out of it.

“We need better leadership out of OMB and the GSA program office if we expect the data center consolidation initiative to be effective,” he said. “With OMB that starts with the federal [chief information officer] and for agency CIOs this needs to be a top priority.”

Data center savings are likely to follow a hockey stick pattern, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel has said, with more savings accruing in later years.

In March, VanRoekel merged the data center consolidation initiative with PortfolioStat, a program aimed at draining inefficiencies from government technology operations. Powner called that merger a natural fit on Tuesday, so long as agencies begin to adequately measure cost savings.

Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and ranking member Gerry Connolly, D-Va., both criticized OMB and GSA for not sending representatives to testify at Tuesday’s field hearing, which was held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Mica pledged to hold additional hearings at which both agencies would be asked to testify.

In the Senate, the data center consolidation initiative is managed by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. That committee’s Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., and ranking member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., issued a joint statement Tuesday praising the government for cutting data centers but scolding it for failing to keep reliable metrics.

“As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Carper said in a statement. “This means it is critical that the Office of Management and Budget and agencies continue to improve their process for tracking and measuring progress on this initiative.”