Bennet-Coburn IT Measure Might Save Some Dollars

December 4, 2013
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Bennet's bill seeks to reign in the federal government's management of its information technology

Bennet’s bill seeks to reign in the federal government’s management of its information technology (LiTsin Soon Image)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Michael Bennet wants federal agencies to have a plan to reduce their number of data centers. Although the Colorado Democrat’s bill to do just that faces an uncertain future in Congress, it has attracted support from Republicans as a measure that is largely non-controversial.

Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who is the co-sponsor  of the legislation, quipped to TCO that passage could herald a new era in the fractious upper chamber.

“If it does pass, it shows we get along too well,” Coburn joked.

Bennet described the effects of the bill in more traditional terms. “This is a common sense way that we can reduce unnecessary waste, save taxpayer money, and ensure that our  federal agencies are being held accountable. This would also cut energy consumption at these data centers,” he said in a statement.

Bennet’s bill seeks to reign in the federal government’s management of its information technology. Like any large organization over the last 15 years, the federal government has acquired more and more information technology to provide for its needs for storing and retrieving data.  It had 432 data centers in 1998 and 1,100 in 2009, according t the Office of Management and Budget.

In 2010, the OMB directed agencies to maintain a “cloud-first” policy: move the federal government’s memory servers out of the bureaucracies and into private- and non-profit hands whenever a secure, reliable, and cost-effective solution could be found. Although the order coincided with a reduction in the number of federal data centers, it did not have the effect the Obama administration desired.

A July 2012 OMB report found only three agencies had submitted a complete inventory of their data centers and a plan to reduce the number of them. Bennet’s bill, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Act of 2013, would require 24 agencies to do both things every year until October 2018.

The amount of taxpayer dollars the legislation would save is an open question. Both Coburn and Bennet’s staff, following the lead of the Obama administration, have cited a figure of$3 billion.  But the likely number is much lower.

“I don’t know how he came up with that figure (of $3 billion),” a Senate Democratic aide told TCO of the author of an OMB report.

The OMB did not come up with a figure in its 2012 report. Instead, the agency quoted an OMB aide who said he believed the savings would be “minimal.”

Yet a Senate Democratic aide concluded the legislation would yield some savings to taxpayers. He noted the Department of Homeland Security saved $53 million by consolidating its data centers.

“It’s not as simple as flipping the switch off,” the Senate Democratic aide said. “Yes, electricity costs would be lower, but there are leasing, moving, personnel, and new equipment costs.”

Seeking to overhaul the federal government’s management of information technology is not a naturally controversial topic in Congress. Indeed, no interests groups have come out in opposition to Bennet’s bill, while the Professional Services Council has come out for it. A spokeswoman for the National Treasury Employees Union said the organization has taken no position on the legislation.

Bennet’s bill has cleared one hurdle already. After the junior senator introduced the measure as a stand-alone bill in late October, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved the bill unanimously on Nov. 6.

Coburn, Bennet’s staff, and Senate Democratic staff have expressed optimism the bill will clear the upper chamber after the Senate returns from its recess next week, but they have stopped short of predicting it will win final approval this year.

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