White House Makes Subtle But Significant Changes In Final Cloud Smart Policy

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The final version puts added emphasis on app rationalization, a new role for FedRAMP and finding cloud champions.

The White House released the finalized version of the administration’s cloud policy, Cloud Smart, 10 months to the day after the Office of Management and Budget released its first draft.

The Cloud Smart policy updates the Obama administration’s Cloud First, established in 2010, and puts this administration’s spin on the effort to increase cloud adoption. Cloud Smart focuses on three pillars: security, procurement and workforce.

“The federal government has a commitment to providing high-quality services to the American people, but that delivery has been limited when there were barriers to adoption of new technologies,” Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent told Nextgov in a statement Monday. “With today’s updated Cloud Smart Strategy, we are providing supporting guidance that addressed historical barriers and embodies an interdisciplinary approach to use of cloud capabilities in the IT modernization journey.”

The final policy adds a push for agencies to “rationalize their application portfolios” by taking a hard look at which apps are truly needed. The “Key Actions” section in the final version now includes a generalized two-step process and adds a call-out to the CIO Council’s new Application Rationalization Playbook.

Besides that addition, the final version of Cloud Smart includes a few subtle but significant changes from the draft.

The strategy gives agencies a hard definition of cloud, based on the five-point schema developed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology. More importantly, the policy looks to refocus the discussion on when cloud is the best technical solution.

“Cloud adoption strategies that successfully meet the intent of Cloud Smart should not be developed around the question of who owns which resources or what anticipated cost savings exist,” the policy states. “Instead, agencies should assess their requirements and seek the environments and solutions, cloud or otherwise, that best enable them to achieve their mission goals while being good stewards of taxpayer resources.”

Between the draft and the final version, OMB doubled down on language leaving it up to agencies to decide whether to purchase cloud technologies or build their own, despite some push-back from industry groups that wanted more focus on commercial cloud.

The original draft left the possibility open, citing hybrid clouds as legitimate options.

“The rapid development of both open source and proprietary offerings have made possible today almost any combination of vendor and government ownership of these various layers,” the draft read. “Industries that are leading in technology innovation have also demonstrated that hybrid and multi-cloud environments can be effective and efficient.”

That language becomes unambiguous in the final version:

These characteristics and the solutions that exhibit them are provider-agnostic—meaning anyone can develop and deploy a cloud solution, whether an outside vendor or a federal agency. Industry has moved to a more finely differentiated set of capabilities offered at different system layers, making possible nearly any combination of various components managed by either a vendor, a government agency, or a mix of both.

The final policy also includes a new way of looking at the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP, which certifies the baseline security of commercial cloud offerings before agencies can get an authority to operate, or ATO.

The draft policy cited FedRAMP as an integral piece of the ATO process but stressed the need for agencies and programs to reuse authorizations to lessen FedRAMP’s workload. The final policy instead reimagines FedRAMP’s role in the process.

“This will also reestablish FedRAMP’s role in the risk assessment process as a verification check for agencies as they make informed decisions about the cloud solutions that they deploy, rather than a panacea for all matters related to the risk associated with any implementation of a cloud solution,” the document states.

The last section of the policy—focused on the workforce—got beefed up, as well, with more specifics on programs and avenues for training employees to use new cloud technologies and reskilling others to join the IT workforce. Along with the added emphasis and advice, the final policy also includes an added plug for leadership.

“Above all else, the success of initiatives like these is dependent on the support of champions in executive leadership who broadly vocalize their backing of the effort and who remove roadblocks that discourage or prevent employees from pursuing reskilling or certification opportunities,” the final version reads. “While finding the right champion presents its own challenges, the ability of this person to amplify the reach and results of the agency’s initiative is invaluable.”