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Federal Data Center Closures No Panacea: Navy CIO

Navy's top IT official takes issue with the federal government's focus on cutting the number of government data centers, says it misses the big picture on IT cost control.
Connolly noted that the OMB and the General Services Administration (GSA) refused to participate in a May 10 subcommittee hearing on data center consolidation. (A GSA official, in response, said the agency was given only four days notice to prepare for the hearing.) "When we looked at the results, most federal agencies had no progress to report whatsoever on data center consolidation," Connolly said. He expressed exasperation when he learned "Within a few weeks of that hearing, OMB announced there were an additional 3,000 data centers that hadn't even been reported" on top of the 3,133 that had been identified as part of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.

Connolly joked about government systems that still rely on decades-old COBOL programming language. "The good news about that is, though it costs money (to maintain), the Chinese don't know how to hack into COBOL."

The House last month adopted IT reform legislation put forth by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Connolly. The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) is aimed at streamlining and strengthening the federal IT acquisition process, promoting the adoption of best practices from the technology community, and granting greater authority and accountability to agency CIOs.

Halverson later noted during the forum, however, that COBOL remains a very cost-effective approach in some instances.

"For non-distributed apps, used by a large group of centrally located people, it's a great way to keep your costs down. In other cases, if you want to change (or consolidate your system), it means changing your language, and the whole process and applications that go around it, and that costs money to do. So you have to make sure you've done the business case (to support that move.)

ITIF president and forum host Robert D. Atkinson suggested that one approach to dealing with the overabundance of federal data centers might be to borrow the approach of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in overcoming the political forces that stand in the way of making rational investment decisions.

"What about a Data Center Closure Commission," he suggested. "You identify the top 10% that are the most costly and inefficient and somebody decides those are the ones that are going to be closed across the government."

Acknowledging it was a good idea, Halverson quickly noted, "It's really hard to do, though."