Federal Agencies Invest More Each Year in Cloud as Benefits Outweigh Challenges

sesame/Getty Images

Government IT experts promoted the benefits of migrating to the cloud, even as they cautioned about the need to train employees and navigate the regulatory process.

Federal agencies are having success migrating to cloud services, but training employees to use the new technology and navigating regulatory hurdles are still factors that must be addressed during the transition, federal IT experts explained during the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center’s 2022 Cloud Migration Virtual Summit on Tuesday. 

Skip Jentsch, a cloud products manager within the General Service Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service, said federal adoption of cloud technology is accelerating as more agencies realize the value of migration and the cost savings and agility that it offers. In 2020, Jentsch said federal agencies spent $6.6 billion on cloud services; and that figure is on track to be over $11 billion in 2022. 

Migrating to cloud services is allowing federal agencies to store vast quantities of data in readily accessible and secure settings that can be shared across different agencies and departments, while also enabling employees to work remotely or in hybrid environments. Jentsch, for example, said that GSA is currently working with Department of Defense agencies to purchase cloud services to store footage from soldiers’ body-worn cameras—something that would otherwise be difficult to store and share because of the size of video files.

“Can you imagine the hundreds of thousands of body-worn cameras that are out there, all of which we need to upload footage from?” Jentsch said. “Isn’t the cloud the perfect repository for that because of how it can expand so quickly?”

Conrad Bovell, the director of Information Systems Security at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said that cloud services allow the agency “to be a lot more agile and responsive to the changing business and environmental needs of the organization.” Bovell cited the rocky rollout of the Healthcare.gov website in 2013 as an example of how cloud services can help streamline and optimize large pools of data—something particularly important to CMS, which serves more than 65 million people. 

“There was a recognition that we have to do this a lot better, and that we need to be more agile and be able to spin up resources in order to support our business needs,” Bovell said. “So it was a hard lesson to learn, but we have taken it to heart and are using that to propel us into the cloud space.”

Federal IT experts at the summit said that, in their experiences, the technical aspect of migrating to the cloud was relatively straightforward once they navigated the contracting process. The more difficult part came in training employees to use the new services.

“Like any large organization, change is difficult and getting staff up to speed and making training available and making people aware of the capabilities has probably been one of our harder challenges,” said David Catanoso, the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Enterprise Cloud Solutions Office. “The technology almost seems like the easy part. It’s really the organizational change management and change in approach and thinking that’s been a bigger challenge.”

Federal IT experts at the summit discussed a variety of tools and services to help agencies better navigate the migration process, including using the CIO Council’s cloud migration playbook to help guide their efforts. And officials also highlighted the importance of GSA’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program in streamlining migration to the cloud. FedRAMP, created in 2011, offers a standard governmentwide approach to validating the security of cloud products sold to federal agencies, while also helping to streamline the migration of data to the cloud. FedRamp currently has 271 authorized cloud service products listed on its marketplace. 

The House last year passed legislation from Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., that would permanently codify FedRAMP as part of GSA. The bill was included in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that passed the House on July 14.

Catanoso said that the FedRAMP program has been a major factor in VA’s ability to move to the cloud, and that they continue to leverage it in order to speed up the ATO process and maintain their existing environments. 

“We’re watching it closely and are looking forward to the outcome,” Catanoso said about the program being made permanent. “We think it will be a positive development.”