A month into FedRAMP, GSA marks progress

It’s been just over a month since initial operating capability was declared for FedRAMP, the government’s ambitious plans for standardizing cloud security. Although there have been challenges along the way, progress is being made and the program is on track, according to a General Services Administration official.

Under FedRAMP, which went operational on June 6, agencies wanting to implement cloud services or products have to meet security criteria – new cloud services have to begin complying now, while existing cloud programs have until June 2014 to meet the requirements. Cloud service providers have to apply for authorization, which is granted by the joint authorization board (JAB), while third-party assessment organizations (3PAOs) independently verify and validate security controls.

Katie Lewin, director of GSA’s federal cloud computing program, said that a month into IOC, roughly 30 initiation requests have been received from cloud service providers. Ten third-party assessment organizations have been accredited so far as well, she said July 17 at the Open Group conference in Washington.

Lewin laid out the various responsibilities of FedRAMP’s three main players – the JAB, the cloud service providers and the 3PAOs – noting that the cloud service providers are shouldering many of the costs, including hiring the 3PAOs and preparing all the required documentation. She also outlined what agencies are and are not responsible for.

“GSA will not charge agencies for their role. We’ll manage the process of presenting to the JAB and also working with the cloud service providers. Federal agencies will have to do what they’ve continued to do even now, which is use their time and resources to grant an" authorization to operate,  she said. “Where the savings should come as they leverage the documentation from FedRAMP, they won’t have to start the ATO from scratch.”

In the future, agencies also will have to develop continuous monitoring plans under FedRAMP, although Lewin noted that so far that’s difficult to do at the early stage in the game.

Although FedRAMP has been a high-profile program, it hasn’t always been an easy road.

To begin with, coordinating across agencies to establish baseline controls was a major obstacle, Lewin noted.

“To get agencies across the government to agree those are the right controls to apply to cloud-based services and products was a long process,” she said.

Beyond that, the government’s all-too-familiar struggles with change surfaced once again with FedRAMP’s rollout.

“We’re continuing to address the challenge of the dreaded phrase ‘change management.’ Nobody likes that phrase but the fact is, that’s what this is. This is not a reinvention…it’s just trying to move things to a standard process than can be applicable across agencies,” Lewin said.

Despite the challenges, the victories have proven worthwhile, with the program largely being implemented as planned, she noted.

“We did it. We launched it when we said we were going to. It’s been sort of fun – how many times do you get to start a whole new program in the federal government?” Lewin said. “It’s been successful because it’s been high-visibility, and that’s good. It’s fraught with risk, but it’s good.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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