Nearly a decade ago, in May of 2013, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Government Operations conducted a field hearing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., to address the Federal government’s ongoing efforts to consolidate data centers and optimize cloud adoption.
Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., presided, but the hearing was held at the request of then-Ranking Member Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who by then had spent nearly four years doggedly pursuing the savings and efficiencies that could result from Federal agencies consolidating and optimizing their data centers.
After lamenting the Northern Virginia traffic that complicated Chairman Mica’s arrival to the hearing, Mica and Connolly outlined the lackluster implementation of the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) 2010 Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (DCOI) as revealed in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in advance of the hearing.
Among other problems cited by GAO, Federal agencies had failed to produce implementation plans for the DCOI effort, and were not yet tracking the cost savings from their consolidation efforts.
Since that 2013 hearing, Presidents have come and gone, control of Congress has changed hands multiple times, and the once-ubiquitous Blackberry has disappeared from Capitol Hill. But congressional oversight of data center consolidation and optimization, led by Rep. Connolly and with the support of others including Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., has been consistent and unyielding.
Through the 2014 passage of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition and Reform Act (FITARA), its biannual scorecards issued by House Oversight, and regular Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendations, Congress has pushed and prodded Federal agencies to realize the savings, efficiencies, and security enhancements that data center optimization offers.
Fast forward to today – nearly 13 years after the first data center consolidation effort – and a new GAO report recently found that agencies are exceeding their goals with respect to data center closures and savings to the taxpayers, closing 58 data centers in fiscal year 2021 and saving $612 million. The report also found that data center closures and optimization saved agencies an astounding $6.6 billion from 2012 to 2021.
But data center optimization is not just a cost-saving exercise – it also can enhance agencies’ cybersecurity posture by centralizing security controls and monitoring, and making it easier to detect and respond to threats. Geographically dispersed data centers can reduce downtime caused by natural disasters or power outages and ensure that critical applications are always accessible.
Congress is always a fickle institution, made up of 535 individuals who face enormous pressure to react and respond to the controversy, outrage, or legitimate challenges of the day, week, and month. Rarely is there sustained interest and engagement on a single issue, even for a year. But 13 years of consistent oversight on the issue of data center consolidation and optimization has made a tremendous impact.
As government tech issues continue to evolve, FITARA remains a vital force in improving Federal IT performance.
Ross Nodurft, executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation, recently told MeriTalk that “the passage of FITARA and the continued oversight of the federal government’s IT modernization, data center optimization, and modern cybersecurity practices have transformed the government’s digital footprint.”
“Without Congress’s continued focus, the federal government would not be in a position to leverage the latest cloud based, commercial technology to deliver critical services and protect our nation,” he said.
Successful data center consolidation requires careful planning, strong execution, and robust coordination among stakeholders at the agency level. And knowing that there is steadfast support in Congress makes a difference for those doing that difficult work. As Rep. Connolly said at MeriTalk’s recent FITARA Awards program, “the change makers in government need to know that someone in Congress has their back and will push for progress.”
As the Federal government’s technology and data needs grow, data center optimization will continue to be a vital piece of the Federal IT modernization puzzle. The success of the past decade provides a strong foundation for the future, but the sustained engagement of Congress will be key to ensure that agencies maximize cost savings, enhance cybersecurity, and ensure that critical applications are always accessible by optimizing their data centers.
James Walkinshaw is the former Chief of Staff to Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., and currently serves as an advisor to MeriTalk.