Poor Leadership Set Back VA Data Center Consolidation Efforts, Watchdog Says

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The agency failed to report an estimated 860 data centers, which violates FITARA requirements, auditors said.

The Veterans Affairs Department fell far short of data center consolidation requirements set by the Office of Management and Budget, according to an internal watchdog.

The Veterans Affairs Inspector General found the agency never set cost savings goals for data center consolidation and failed to report potentially hundreds of centers to the Office of Management and Budget, both of which violate FITARA requirements.

In a report published Wednesday, the IG also said department lacks a plan for optimizing data centers at existing facilities and meeting OMB consolidation requirements.

Auditors attributed the substantial shortcomings in FITARA compliance to the agency’s deputy chief information officer, who oversees IT operations and maintenance. The official, they said, didn’t “effectively communicate the criteria for identifying and reporting data center inventories” across the agency.

“Without an accurate inventory of data centers or a credible plan to increase operational efficiency and achieve cost savings, VA will continue to operate in an IT environment that is at greater risk for duplication and waste,” auditors wrote.

OMB launched the Data Center Optimization Initiative in 2016 to bring agencies in line with FITARA’s consolidation requirements. Under the measure, agencies are required to annually submit data center counts, optimization strategies and yearly investment and cost savings totals.

As part of the initiative, OMB called on Veterans Affairs to shutter 130 tiered and non-tiered data centers by the end of fiscal 2018. The department only ended up closing 32 centers during that period, auditors said.

They also found the agency reported less than 25 percent of the data centers housed across 66 randomly selected facilities. Projecting that rate across the agency, the IG estimated Veterans Affairs officials failed to report roughly 860 data centers to OMB.

While the department projected—and achieved—roughly $4 million in cost savings from consolidation efforts in fiscal 2016, it never came up with savings estimates for 2017 or 2018, the report said. The White House initially anticipated more than $85 million in cost savings during that period, but auditors noted both OMB and Veterans Affairs are revising that figure.

The agency is also behind schedule in rolling out energy metering software used to assess data center efficiency, they said.

Despite the department’s data center troubles, it toes the line on most other aspects of FITARA. Veterans Affairs earned one of the highest grades in government on the most recent FITARA scorecard, though it received an “F” in data center optimization.

Lawmakers like House Oversight Government Operations subcommittee chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., have argued against changing the scorecard until agencies get on board with data center requirements.