House subcommittee troubled over data center updates

Lawmakers criticize agencies for underestimating by several thousand the number of data centers involved in a consolidation initiative.

John Mica

Rep. John Mica was troubled to learn that the number of data centers involved in a consolidation effort is more than twice what OMB had stated. (File photo)

The federal government spends more than $80 billion a year on information technology, with some portion of that money paying for the operation and maintenance of some 7,100 data centers. And yet, the government may still not really know how many centers it has.

Testifying at a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, Government Accountability Office Director of IT Management Issues Dave Powner sparked a dialog between subcommittee members clearly troubled by his assessment, and representatives from the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration trying to explain themselves.

Powner’s statements came during testimony he gave alongside U.S.  CIO Steven VanRoekel and Dave McClure, associate administrator of the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. His testimony, given on July 25, followed recent news that OMB severely underestimated the number of data centers involved in the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative – the number now stands at about 7,100, 4,000 more than OMB had publicly proclaimed for the past two years.

The disclosure of the increase in data centers initially came from GAO through follow-up audit work on the FDCCI, Powner told the subcommittee. OMB, which shares oversight responsibilities on FDCCI with GSA and a joint-task force, added to the tally in a recent Hill briefing.

It didn’t sit well with subcommittee members.

“In April 2013, we were told there were 3,133 data centers. Now we’re told it’s over 7,000 – that’s kind of a slight miscalculation,” said Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, (R-Fla.), who pointed out the surprised reactions from subcommittee members over Powner’s question of whether the government has its inventories correct even now. 

Mica then asked Powner if 7,100 data centers is the final total.

“I wouldn’t put my money on it,” Powner said.

Rep. Mark Meadows, (R-N.C.), said OMB knew as far back as June 2012 that it actually had at least 6,700 data centers, according to a recent Hill briefing by OMB. In response, VanRoekel said he didn't want agencies haphazardly closing small data centers and stuffing them into existing centers. Optimization is what's important, he said, not just closing centers.

One reason for the fluctuating numbers, VanRoekel added, is that the definition of a data center has changed since the FDCCI work began.  

Mica criticized the effectiveness of FDCCI and leadership from OMB. "From a consolidation standpoint, it looks like we’re stuck in neutral or gone in reverse," he said.

PortfolioStat and TechStat, two other OMB-led initiatives, have had problems mixed with successes, Mica noted. While FDCCI’s savings are thus far below goals set by OMB, PortfolioStat, a thorough examination of agencies’ IT portfolios to identify savings is beginning to produce large savings, and TechStat, face-to-face, evidence-based accountability reviews of IT investments that began in 2010, have identified taxpayers $4 billion in savings.

During the hearing, VanRoekel revealed that PortfolioStat – implemented in March 2012 – has achieved $885 million in cost savings and avoidance since March 2012. In addition, total savings related to federal IT reform amounts to $1.37 billion to date across the government. The biggest PortfolioStat cost savings from an individual agency, $206 million, came from the Social Security Administration, with the Department of Defense saving $189 million.

To date, PortfolioStat – which now includes FDCCI – has identified more than $2.5 billion in future cost reductions, VanRoekel said.

Powner piggybacked on VanRoekel’s figures and said future savings from PortfolioStat may well be in the $5 billion to$6 billion range, but suggested those kind of savings will require hard-nosed CIOs with powers most do not yet have.

“Authorities need to be strengthened, we’re currently learning not all CIOs have authority over commodity IT purchases,” Powner said. “That’s not a very high bar.”

Mica also specifically mentioned the IT Dashboard, noting that the Defense Department hasn't submitted new information in two years.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, (D-Va.), encouraged VanRoekel and McClure to support the Federal IT Procurement Reform Act (FITARA), which he co-sponsored. FITARA was added as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill in June and passed the House as a provision in that measure.

One of FITARA’s key points is increased budget authority for CIOs, a power long-touted but rarely exercised by agency IT leaders.

“FITARA addresses that issue,” Connolly said.

“This is the friendliest bill you’re going to get out of the House. But if the administration decides to spurn that legislation that has passed the House, I would say you are going to have problems on both sides of the aisle,” he added. “I urge you to go back and consider support for this legislation. A position of opposition is not going to sit well.”

 

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