GSA Will Stop Recruiting Cloud Security Testers Until the Fall


Auditing firms have until March 25 to apply for the government’s new FedRAMP certification program.

The government's new program for certifying the safety of browser-based software will not be able to recruit additional testers until the fall, federal officials told Nextgov.

Currently, there are 16 government-approved independent testing firms assessing the security of dozens of cloud provider data centers to make sure they are up to standard. These auditors are part of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP, which was launched in June to provide agencies one list of preapproved cloudware with all the product certification paperwork completed. That way, interested agencies don’t have to perform redundant security checks, potentially saving as much as $200,000 per certification.

Today, a team of federal security professionals vets the integrity of the auditing firms. In 2011, before FedRAMP was even fully conceived, government officials said they would outsource this work to save money and increase throughput. In February, they began researching private accreditation bodies that could take over the vetting, according to contracting databases.

The planned privatization of the "accreditation function will result in a pause in accepting new applications," Jackeline Stewart, a spokeswoman for the General Services Administration, the government’s purchasing division, said in an email. The length of the hiatus depends on the time it takes to conduct a fair competition and then shift responsibilities, she added.

"We are targeting for the transition to be complete in the fall," Stewart said.  

GSA publicly announced on Tuesday that it will stop accepting new applications from auditors on March 25 and "will not accept any resubmitted application" from rejected applicants either.

Hiring impartial inspectors is complicated because many security auditors also do paid consulting work for cloud providers. Applicants have to prove they are truly independent from the cloud firms they will be testing.

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven Van Roekel in mid-January said at least 78 cloud providers intended to audition for FedRAMP, and more were expected to sign up in the future. To date, two software companies have successfully navigated the program.

On Tuesday evening, the cloud sector, which relies on these auditors to get onto agency's shopping lists, expressed uneasiness about halting recruiting.   

"We have continually encouraged GSA to make sure that the FedRAMP program has enough bandwidth to handle the cloud service providers who want to go through the process," said Mike Hettinger, public sector director for the Software and Information Industry Association, which represents Web services suppliers. "If, by privatizing, that will ensure enough bandwidth to go through the process, I am encouraged.”

“I'm a little concerned about the gap between when GSA stops accepting third-party assessors and the fall when the private sector accreditation organization will be established,” Hettinger continued. “Having a gap probably has the potential to slow down the process." 

Based on conversations he has had with a number of the assessors, all 16 are getting substantial business from aspiring cloudware makers, Hettinger said. How many additional auditor applications GSA will be able to clear before March 25 is unknown.

In Tuesday's announcement, GSA officials stated, "Organizations that cannot meet the cutoff date or are denied accreditation can apply for accreditation to the private sector accreditation body after the transition period." 

Stewart added, "GSA has been actively reaching out and engaging with affected stakeholders to make this transition as smooth as possible."

Some tech industry analysts said GSA's move to privatize accrediting, while commonplace in federal contracting, will not be a big cost-cutter right now. 

"Long term savings should come from competition and the resulting efficiency, but unless the existing government-run accreditation process was inefficient, there is not necessarily any immediate savings," said Daniel Castro, a researcher with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank. 

(Image via Bulatnikov/