Federal Agencies on Track to Consolidate Data Centers

Congress looks to reduce the footprint of the government's IT infrastructure as agencies shift toward cloud computing, shared services and detailed reporting of government IT spending.

A U.S. Senate committee yesterday approved legislation that would encourage government agencies to consolidate their data centers along with a bill to require online disclosures of federal spending data.

Federal Agencies on Track to Consolidate Data Centers

The Federal Data Center Consolidation Act, sponsored by Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), would spur on an initiative that the Obama administration launched in February 2010 to reduce the footprint of the government's IT infrastructure as agencies shift toward cloud computing and shared services.

[Related: Federal CIOs Need More Authority to Better Manage IT]

The bill would require the 24 agencies participating in that effort to submit comprehensive inventories of their IT facilities to the Office of Management and Budget, along with long-term plans for phasing out data centers and optimizing performance at the ones that remain open. The agencies would also be expected to submit estimates of cost savings from their consolidation plans.

Washington Calls for 'Common Sense' Approach

Bennet called his bill "a common sense way that we can reduce unnecessary waste, save taxpayer dollars and ensure that our federal agencies are being held accountable." He added: "It will also help cut energy consumption at these data centers."

The government says that it spends $450 million each year in electricity costs to power its data centers.

[Related: CIOs in the Public Sector Face Roadblocks to Data Center Consolidation]

The Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved the bill by a voice vote sending the measure to the full Senate for consideration.

The panel also reported out the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, which would require detailed reporting of government spending, broken out by specific appropriation, program, account and agency.

The measure would direct the Treasury Department to promulgate government-wide financial data standards, and subject the data published on the USASpending.gov site to an audit by agency inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office.

[Related: Federal CIOs Must Embrace Hybrid IT in Shift to Cloud]

Both bills generally aim to trim costs and improve efficiencies in the federal government's operations. In the area of IT, where the government spends roughly $80 billion annually, agencies have struggled to develop holistic plans for consolidating data centers in part because they don't have a comprehensive view of their facilities, something Bennet's bill would directly address.

That murky picture is partially the product of the byzantine organizational structure of the federal government, where department and agency hierarchies include numerous sub-agencies and bureaus that often run an essentially independent IT operation, commonly under the direction of their own CIO.

In June, Commerce Department CIO Simon Szykman testified that the "overwhelming majority" of the department's data centers were managed at the bureau level.

Steven VanRoekel, the CIO of the federal government, has argued that departments and agencies could streamline their IT operations if they consolidated their reporting structures and gave the chief CIO more centralized authority to manage commodity IT applications.

At the June hearing, the GAO's David Powner testified that, based on the available data, agency data centers were commonly operating with server utilization rates of between 5 percent and 15 percent. The goal of the consolidation initiative is to bring those rates up to the range of 60 percent to 70 percent.

The data center bill and the DATA Act both sailed through committee with bipartisan support, with Republican members seizing on their potential to cut costs at a time of escalating federal debt.

"With over $17 trillion in debt, there's no excuse to continue to spend millions on wasteful and unnecessary federal data centers -- some of which are utilizing only 5 percent of their capacity," said New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, who is a co-sponsor of both bills.

Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com. Follow Kenneth on Twitter @kecorb. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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