GAO, OMB spar over whether to measure data center cost savings

Wednesday - 5/15/2013, 6:01am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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Agencies are on track to close almost 1,000 data centers by December 2013 through the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.

But whether or not agencies achieve the estimated $3 billion in savings that the Office of Management and Budget initially said would come from these efforts is unclear.

David Powner, director of IT management issues, GAO

The Government Accountability Office found OMB's course change may be missing the real benefits of this initiative.

David Powner, the director of IT management issues at GAO, told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations that OMB was not measuring cost savings and cost savings were minimal.

"If you are going to establish a goal of closures and cost savings, we need to then track that and drive it to closure," Powner said. "We have a lot of good plans in the IT area, but what we don't do is implement them. And folks aren't held accountable, and this is a prime example."

GAO recommended in its latest report on the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) that OMB should make the measuring and tracking of cost savings a major part of this effort.

"We can talk about optimization goals and all this other stuff, but we are optimizing the stuff that remains," Powner said. "All those closures, even if they are small wiring closets, 800 of them, there's a lot of money to be had with those."

Moving the goal posts

OMB initially set a goal of closing 800 of the more than 2,100 federal data centers by 2015. In December 2011, Federal chief information officer Steve VanRoekel expanded the goal to close 1,200 by 2015.

But in March, OMB moved FDCCI into the version 2 PortfolioStat process and changed the focus from shutting down data centers to optimization.

"The integration of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative and PortfolioStat is critical because data centers are a means to an end, a way to deliver optimized infrastructure services, to enable agencies to meet their missions," said an OMB official, who requested anonymity, in an email. "And more holistic measurement will enable a more comprehensive analysis of resources used, and efficiencies realized."

That holistic measurement includes nine optimization metrics currently under development by the FDCCI Task Force.

Metrics under development

Bernie Mazer, chairman of the task force and Interior Department CIO, said the task force shifted from focusing on best practices to helping agencies better manage their data center inventories.

Bernie Mazer, CIO, Interior Department

"Some of the metrics we are looking at is how much virtualizing we've done of the boxes. We are establishing a standard for the U.S. government," he said. "We are looking at metrics in terms of how much floor space we are using. We are looking at metrics in terms of the energy costs and we're establishing a baseline. We also are looking at metrics in terms of what is the ratio of things out in the cloud as opposed to activities on premises."

Mazer said these metrics will be a baseline that will serve as the basis for agencies to use when they hold PortfolioStat sessions later this summer.

He didn't say when the metrics would be finalized or if they would be made public.

Powner said the task force, OMB and the General Services Administration could strengthen their management and oversight of the FDCCI.

He said the task force should return to doing peer reviews of agency consolidation plans in order to look for potential errors.

In addition to tracking cost savings, GAO recommended OMB should ensure agency officials with responsibility to consolidate data centers are empowered and held accountable. Auditors also suggested OMB extend the timeframe for measuring savings beyond 2015.

OMB agreed with two of the three recommendations, but said it would need more time to evaluate whether or not to extend the period in which agencies measured savings from data center consolidation.

GSA needs to do a better job analyzing agency consolidation plans and reviewing them for errors.

"[A]fter more than three years into FDCCI, agencies have made progress in their efforts to close data centers. However, many key aspects of the integration of FDCCI and PortfolioStat, including new data center consolidation and cost savings goals, have not yet been defined," Powner's written testimony stated. "Further compounding this lack of clarity, total cost savings to date from data center consolidation efforts have not been determined, creating uncertainty as to whether OMB will be able to meet its original cost savings goal of $3 billion by the end of 2015. In the absence of tracking and reporting on cost savings and additional time for agencies to achieve planned savings, OMB will be challenged in ensuring that the initiative, under this new direction, is meeting its established objectives."

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