Feds closing computer centers, but unsure if they’re saving money

The government has more data centers than it needs, and is trying to close 40 percent of them by 2015.  But lax oversight and record keeping has left federal officials unsure if they’re meeting the planned $3 billion in savings, a watchdog report says.

The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative is a joint program between 24 agencies and headed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.  The goal was to close 1,253 out of the 3,133 total data centers.  But investigators at the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog arm, said that by the goal of 2015, OMB will be short by 285 closures, calling into question just how much of its projected $3 billion in savings it will actually get.

The endeavor has been plagued with problems.  At the start, 17 agencies didn’t provide full information on their IT centers or energy usage, investigators said.  And OMB hasn’t been closely monitoring the closings to make sure the billions of dollars are saved.

“Until OMB tracks and reports on performance measures such as cost savings, it will be limited in its ability to oversee agencies’ progress against key goals,” GAO said.

The initiative to close down many data centers was launched in 2010, amid concerns that some federal resources were redundant and unneeded.

“Over the last 15 years, the federal government’s increasing demand for IT has led to a dramatic rise in the number of federal data centers and a corresponding increase in operational costs,” the GAO said, noting that the government had 432 data centers in 1998 and more than 1,100 in 2009.

“Operating such a large number of centers is a significant cost to the federal government, including costs for hardware, software, real estate, and cooling,” the report said. “For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the electricity cost to operate federal servers and data centers across the government is about $450 million annually.”

OMB is making progress in shutting down the centers, GAO said, but the savings may not be fully realized.

“Although data center consolidation involves reductions in costs for existing facilities and operations, it also requires investment in new and upgraded facilities and, as a result, any current savings are often offset by the reinvestment of those funds into ongoing consolidation efforts,” the GAO said.

At the current rate of closure, OMB is expecting to save $2.4 billion by 2015.  GAO investigators said the deadline might have to be extended in order to close all the data centers, and that OMB needs to step up its oversight of the process.

OMB officials agreed and said they were launching a more in-depth review of the data center closures.  Meanwhile, they’ll consider extending the deadline past 2015.

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