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GAO: Federal Data Center Consolidation Plans Lack Details

Jul 28, 2011 (12:07 PM EDT)

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Federal agencies have failed to disclose key information about their plans to consolidate data centers, which could affect how much savings the government achieves from the effort, according to a government watchdog agency.

A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released this week found that only one of 24 agencies required to submit data center inventories and consolidation plans by the end of last August submitted a complete inventory, while not a single agency submitted a complete plan. The GAO reviewed the data center consolidation plans agencies presented for the report.

Specifically, the GAO said, 14 agencies did not provide a complete listing of data centers and 15 did not list all of their software assets. Moreover, 20 agencies did not reference a master schedule, 12 agencies did not address cost-benefit calculations, and nine did not address risk management, the agency found.

Agency officials said they had difficulty meeting timelines for submitting the plans, and that they also face technical, operational, and cultural challenges to closing data centers, according to the report. The GAO said that until agency plans for data center consolidation are complete, it will be hard to truly estimate cost savings from the effort.

Federal officials have said that agencies will close more than 800 data centers and save taxpayers $3 billion, although it also will cost the feds some money. In its report, however, the GAO said that the consolidation plans they reviewed present the closure of about 650 data centers and $700 million in savings, showing a discrepancy with the plans they reviewed.

The Office of Management and Budget did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment on the report.

Outgoing U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra--under whom the data center consolidation plan was launched--seems to be aware of agencies' lack of data on facility closures and the effect they will have on cost savings.

The day before the GAO report--dated July 19--was released, he released a directive laying out the next set of deadlines and steps in the government's effort. Kundra leaves his post at the end of the month for a position at Harvard University.

The directive requires federal agencies to publish the details of their data center consolidation plans on their public websites by Oct. 7. They also must provide details on cost savings, changes in asset inventories, and consolidation progress in fiscal 2013 budget submissions, which will be due within the next several months.

In the meantime, federal data center consolidation is steaming ahead. Last week, federal officials said agencies are ahead of schedule on their facility closure goals. This year they expect to close 195 data centers as opposed to the 137 they'd targeted for elimination earlier in the year. And next year the feds expect to close 178 data centers, officials said.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)