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In Federal IT Policy, It’s Now “Cloud First”

The federal government’s effort to close the IT gap between the public and private sectors will put cloud computing first, OMB Deputy Director for Management and Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients announced Friday.

Zients, who revealed the broad outlines of a five-part Obama administration proposal to increase the efficiency of the federal government, said that under one element of the proposal federal agencies will be asked to adopt “light technologies and shared solutions.” In practical terms, Zients said, this element includes a “cloud-first” policy that requires agencies to choose a cloud-based IT solution when a secure and available option exists. The goal is to implement this requirement by April 2011 — in time for the 2012 budget cycle.

The administration’s proposal focuses on five areas:

  • Aligning budgets and acquisitions with the technology cycle. Pointing to the long delays in the current IT acquisition model, the administration intends to give agencies the authority to reprogram funds in exchange for increased oversight. The aim is to avoid the current situation, in which as much as three years can pass between when an agency first proposes a new software solution and when it actually gets funding. This often causes federal solutions to be outdated before they can even be implemented. The White House plans pilot projects to test various ideas about increasing flexibility in acquisition.
  • Strengthening program management. The proposal includes a formal career track for professional program managers, and it will require agencies to establish “integrated program teams” before an IT project can be approved.
  • Increasing accountability and streamlining government. In a structural change, the proposal aims to eliminate layers of ineffective oversight and replace them with regular accountability sessions involving well-informed senior executives.
  • Increasing engagement with industry. Paralyzed by fears of running afoul of contracting rules, Zients said, risk-averse government managers improperly avoid interacting with the business community in search of better solutions. In response, the administration effort includes a “myth-busting” campaign that aims to clear up for agency managers the level of consultation they are legally allowed to conduct.
  • Adopting light technologies and shared solutions. In addition to the new “cloud-first” IT acquisition policy, the administration plans to make available secure, government-wide cloud platforms in 2011 and to reduce the more than 2,000 federal data centers 40 percent by 2015.

White House CIO Vivek Kundra is scheduled to provide additional information on the proposed effort in a December 9 speech. More information about the proposal is available on the Office of Management and Budget’s OMB Blog.

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