Following a string of startling revelations, Congress has stepped in to change the way certain federal agencies use their datacenters, and investigate what appear to be gross misrepresentations in reports about what agencies are actually doing with billions of dollars’ worth of IT.
No, the changes have nothing to do with the National Security Agency (NSA) or its controversial electronic surveillance programs. On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a rule requiring that the chief information officers (CIOs) of federal agencies participate in decisions about IT spending at their agencies, and that each agency can have only one CIO. Under current rules, agencies can appoint CIOs who have no ability to affect how their agency actually spends money earmarked for IT—and sometimes can’t even get accurate reports on how the money has been spent.
Nor is that the only issue. Last week, in testimony before a House committee, leaders of the Federal Datacenter closure program admitted their goal of saving $3 billion by closing 800 of the government’s 2,100 datacenters will need to be reevaluated, because the government actually has closer to 6,000 datacenters.
According to a story in the Federal Times, most of the new datacenters are probably small facilities consisting only of a few server racks or storage units rather than a full datacenter—but it’s impossible to pinpoint wasted or duplicated IT spending without knowing how many IT facilities even exist.
The Office of Management and Budget had predicted that closing 800 datacenters would save $3 billion by 2015, with very little cost in loss of services by eliminating duplicate facilities or spending. OMB, which had reported significant progress and savings due to the closures until late last year, now says its goal is to close 40 percent of federal datacenters—whatever that number turns out to be.
The Department of Homeland Security is the gold standard for federal datacenter closures because it was able to accurately count its number of datacenters, knew how many have been closed, and could account for the amount it had saved by the closures, Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Said during the hearing Tuesday: “You can’t do that anywhere else in the federal government.”
Asked if he knew the number and location of the IT facilities belonging to Health and Human Services, HHS CIO Frank Baitman said, “We have a pretty good idea of where they are.”
Neither HHS nor most other federal agencies are able to account for all their IT facilities despite two now-combined programs to count them because, in many cases, someone other than the CIO was leading the effort to actually count the datacenters.
Agencies were allowed by OMB rules to select who should lead each attempt at data-center counting; if the CIO was not leading the inventory effort, it was difficult to be sure the CIO’s office was receiving full reports of the count. The GAO is also questioning OMB reports claiming it had saved $4 billion during 2010 and 2011 by reviewing government IT projects, Federal Times added; the GAO reported it could confirm only $22.2 million in savings from the OMB’s efforts, rather than $4 billion.