The Government Found Another 2,000 Data Centers


The government struggles to keep track of its technology investments.

Last week, Congress released a first assessment of how federal agencies are implementing the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act and immediately held a hearing to discuss why most of government received poor marks.

The hearing featured exchanges one might expect between the oversight bodies represented – the Government Accountability Office and members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – and chief information officers defending their agencies and the government at large.

But there was one unscripted tidbit that raised some eyebrows.

In one exchange, GAO’s director of IT management issues, Dave Powner, revealed to FITARA co-author Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., that federal agencies reported 11,700 data centers, or 2,000 more data centers than GAO tallied across government in May 2014.

This reveal is just the latest M. Night Shyamalan-like plot twist for the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative -- the effort created by the Federal CIO Council in 2010 to close or optimize 40 percent of the government’s data centers. At the time, the number of data centers was estimated at 3,133. By 2013, the government estimated it had more than 6,000 data centers, and later that year, that number climbed to 7,000 before GAO’s latest official tally of 9,700.

Powner’s exchange with Connolly reiterated how much the government struggles to keep track of its technology investments and perhaps more than anything, drives home the importance of FITARA.

Energy-sucking data centers consume massive amounts of power and are expensive. The kicker is that most of the 11,700 data centers used across government are what Powner called “non-core” centers. GAO and other watchdogs have consistently pointed toward such centers as prime targets for closure or migration to cloud computing.  

To date, the government has closed 3,300 data centers – more than it believed it had back in 2010 -- saving approximately $2.5 billion. Powner testified that agencies plan to close another 2,000 data centers by 2018, with savings that could approach $8 billion.

Interestingly, planned closures from five agencies – Defense, Homeland Security, Transportation, Commerce and Treasury – account for more than 90 percent of the expected savings across the 24 largest federal agencies. The other 19 agencies have likely “lowballed their targets,” according to Powner’s testimony, or didn’t submit cost estimates at all.

Either way, the new information suggests there is a lot more than $8 billion in savings from the proper reduction of federal data centers. The new data center tally also illustrates FITARA’s legislative significance.

While it’s received praise for empowering CIOs with budgetary authority over IT purchases, FITARA’s most significant policy language may actually be that it requires the public reporting of inventories, closures and savings. In the past year it’s actually been law, agencies dug up 2,000 data centers and a few billion dollars’ worth of potential savings because they’re legally mandated to.

It makes you wonder what they’ll find next.

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