cloud metrics

Agencies rack up cloud savings, but better reporting needed, GAO says

Although agencies report savings hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to their cloud services, those investments still represent only a fraction of government IT purchases, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

GAO examined IT investments at 16 agencies and found about 11 percent of agencies' planned fiscal year 2019 IT investments use cloud computing services, as reported to the IT Dashboard -- a 2 percentage-point bump over the fiscal 2017 and 2018 levels.

The General Services and Social Security Administrations had the largest percent increases in cloud services since fiscal year 2016, followed by the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce. Just four agencies reported a smaller percentage of their IT investments going to cloud services: the Departments of Defense, Education, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. 

The greater use of the cloud is saving agencies money, too. According to GAO, 13 agencies reported saving $291 million since 2014 by using cloud services. And officials from 15 of the 16 agencies GAO reviewed said cloud provided "significant benefits" that included improved customer service and more cost-effective IT management.

But data shortcomings remain. 

Officials from the 13 agencies reporting savings acknowledged the data was incomplete, as it was "only tracked on an ad hoc basis for certain cloud investments."

Agencies also continue to struggle with actually assessing their investments in cloud services. OMB guidance requires agencies to evaluate each of their cloud service investments and include the evaluation in their annual budget submissions. Agencies did not complete these requisite assessments for about 16 percent of cloud-related IT investments. GSA and the State Department were the only two agencies to complete an assessment for all cloud-related IT investments. More than half of the cloud investments of SSA and the Department of Treasury went unassessed.

GAO noted, however, the changes in OMB guidance since 2015 "created confusion" about what investment data needs to be tracked and reported, particularly when cloud acquisitions were part of larger purchases.

As a result, OMB staff told auditors "that agency-reported cloud spending data are underreported and stated that the IT Dashboard reflects only a fraction of actual federal spending on cloud services." They added, however, that the new guidance from OMB should clarify confusion and increase consistency, as it will require agencies to report total cloud costs by investment.

Most agencies agreed with GAO's recommendations that they should establish ways to consistently track savings. The Defense Department did not, however, stating it "does not currently plan to capture savings and cost avoidance associated with migration or deployment of cloud services," citing the lack of a "standard, consistent" way to collect such information.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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