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Lawmakers Grill Federal CIO On Data Center Figures

House subcommittee hammers Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel on how federal data center tally suddenly doubled.

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Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, speaking before a House subcommittee Thursday, defended the Office of Management and Budget's sudden acknowledgement that the number of federal data centers now totaled more than 7,000, more than twice the number that had been reported as recently as May.

Little more than two months ago, VanRoekel, who also serves as OMB acting deputy director for management, reported that agencies had already closed 484 out of 3,133 federal data centers and were on track to close a total of 855 by Sept. 30, the end of the government's fiscal year. The closures are part of the OMB's three-year old Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, aimed at reducing the number of duplicative and underutilized data centers by 40% by the end of 2015.

VanRoekel found himself in the hot seat at a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations Thursday, after OMB began acknowledging, but not formally announcing, that a change in definition had resulted in agencies reporting that the number of qualifying facilities was actually more than twice what had been originally reported.

[ The number of data centers don't matter, says this government exec. Read Federal Data Center Closures No Panacea: Navy CIO. ]

According to page 19 of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, as of July 2013, 22 of the 24 FDCCI agencies collectively reported now having 6,836 data centers in their inventories. OMB officials have since acknowledged that given the ambiguity of Defense Department reports, the number likely exceeds 7,000.

An incredulous panel of lawmakers, including Representatives John Mica (R-Fla.), Mark Meadows (R-NC ) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), pressed VanRoekel on how the administration managed to so seriously underestimate the number federal data centers. They also questioned whether expectations of as much as $2.5 billion in related anticipated savings over the next three years was even credible anymore.

"I expanded the definition," VanRoekel said in response to the question of what caused the sudden change. The original estimate of 3,133 data centers was based on a definition of facilities that generally measured 500 square feet or more.

OMB realized, based on information provided through April 30, 2013, that more than 70% of agency data center assets are less than 500 square feet, and in many cases, smaller than 100 square feet, according to a statement from Dave McClure, associate administrator for the General Services Administration, who also testified at the hearing. GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, which McClure heads, administers much of the work behind the data center consolidation initiative on behalf of OMB.

VanRoekel went on to explain that under the prevailing definition, agencies had wiggle room to break data centers into smaller spaces to avoid being counted, or to combine adjacent, dedicated data centers into one. That would allow agencies to meet the administration's goals, but not actually improve use significantly, which was the intent of the FDDCI, he said.

"I wanted to be sure" agencies weren't left in a position of reporting some assets and not others because of how OMB had defined what a data center is, he said. The underlying goal is "to drive optimization," he said.

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