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5/16/2013
03:27 PM
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Federal Data Center Consolidation Found Lacking

GAO recommends stepped up oversight and an extended deadline to meet OMB's objectives.

New York's 32-Story Data 'Fortress'
New York's 32-Story Data 'Fortress'
(click image for slideshow)
The federal government's ambitious plan to close 40% of its data centers by the end of 2015 is suffering from "weaknesses in oversight" that may make it difficult for Uncle Sam to hit its objectives, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, introduced by the Office of Management and Budget in 2010, aims to close 1,253 of the government's 3,133 data centers by the end of 2015. So far, agencies have identified 968 data centers to close, which leaves them 285 short of the goal, according to GAO.

It's unclear how agencies will make up that difference. OMB's quarterly report to Congress, issued in January 2013, "does not provide any new information about either planned or completed agency data center closures," said David Powner, director of GAO's IT management issues office, in testimony to the House Oversight and Government reform subcommittee on government operations.

[ Data centers are one thing. What about data? Read Data Management Key To Federal Open Data Policy. ]

Nor has OMB put processes and tools in place to fully measure agencies' progress in achieving the estimated $3 billion in cost savings that the FDCCI is supposed to realize. GAO found that, as of November 2012, "the total savings to date had not been tracked but were believed to be minimal."

In meetings with OMB, GAO determined that there is no consistent, repeatable method for tracking cost savings. "The lack of initiative-wide cost savings data makes it unclear whether agencies will be able to achieve OMB's projected savings," Powner said. He added that in previous work, GAO found agencies' cost savings projections to be incomplete and, in some cases, unreliable.

Powner reiterated an earlier recommendation that OMB track and report on the size of data centers closed, since square footage tends to be reflected in operational costs and efficiency. Without that information, OMB is limited in its ability to oversee the cost-savings target, he said.

The watchdog agency recommended that the federal CIO report annually on key consolidation performance measures, such as cost savings and the size of centers closed, and set up a mechanism to ensure agencies meet their responsibilities for oversight, review and approval of consolidation plans.

Because agencies have yet to identify all data centers to be closed and with performance metrics lacking, Powner suggested the FDCCI's time frame for reaching its savings goal should be extended.

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, in a formal response to the GAO report, agreed with most of the agency's recommendations. But VanRoekel resisted extending the FDCCI's deadline beyond 2015, pointing to OMB's recent decision to tie the government's data center consolidation program more closely to its IT portfolio management program, PortfolioStat.

"As the FDCCI and PortfolioStat initiatives proceed and continue to generate savings, OMB will consider whether updates to the current timeframe are appropriate," VanRoekel wrote.

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