IG blasts DOD CIO for lack of cloud metrics

The Department of Defense doesn't know whether it is getting cost savings from cloud computing, and may be inviting security risks in the process, according to the Pentagon's inspector general.

Cloud Security

A lack of a standard definition for cloud computing across the Department of Defense is undercutting the CIO's effort to roll out cloud services across the department, according to the Pentagon's inspector general.

"DOD cannot determine whether it achieves actual cost savings or benefits from adopting cloud-computing services," the audit report states. "In addition, without knowing what data DOD components place on the cloud, DOD may not effectively identify and monitor cloud computing security risks."

The IG's finding pushes against DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen's emphasis on delivering tangible cost savings by driving adoption of commercial cloud at the Pentagon. The IG report asserts that savings and gains from cloud adoption cannot be determined with the contracting information available.

Since taking over as the Pentagon's top IT official in May 2014, Halvorsen has pledged to build a data-driven approach to cloud. The former Navy CIO has said his goal for DOD was to use data to compare IT performance across the military services, and then take those numbers to industry to set clearer expectations in contracting.

The audit, conducted from December 2014 to October 2015, found that the military services and the DOD CIO lacked a central repository for contract information. When asked for a list of contracts between fiscals 2011 and 2014, CIO officials said their compilation drew on "various sources such as informal data calls and coordination with IT working groups," the report states.

The report notes Halvorsen's effort to standardize defense agencies' evaluation of cloud services via a business case analysis. These analyses must be submitted to the DOD CIO to justify procurements based on cost, security and interoperability. Nonetheless, preparing a business case does not mean an agency will issue a contract, only that it is considering doing so.

The IG recommended that the OCIO either establish a department-wide definition of cloud computing or clarify how the National Institute of Standards and Technology's definition applies to DOD cloud contracts. The OCIO should also set up a repository with detailed information to identify DOD cloud contracts, the IG said.

The Pentagon's principal deputy CIO David L. DeVries appeared to disagree with the IG on the clarity of the office's cloud computing policies. In a reply to the report, he said that DOD's issuance of a cloud security requirements guide adhered to the NIST definition of cloud services. But the IG responded by saying that defense agencies operated under different interpretations of the NIST definition.

DeVries also argued that the office's enhancement of a reporting system known as the Select and Native Programming Data Input System for IT (SNAP-IT) sufficiently addressed the IG's call for a single repository for information on cloud contracts. (The upgrade to SNAP-IT accounts for cloud budgeting and information on contracts, according to the OCIO.) The IG's review of SNAP-IT, however, left the watchdog uncertain about what improvements had been made, and the IG reiterated its call for a department-wide repository.  

An OCIO spokesperson said that officials had no comment beyond the response they supplied for the OIG report.

The IG report comes as DOD officials are planning to place increasingly sensitive data in the commercial cloud. Officials are discussing when and how to allow commercial cloud providers to handle Level 6 classified data, and the Defense Information Systems Agency plans to issue multiple provisional authorizations for Level 5 sensitive data in the next 17 months.

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