GAO: Agencies Reap Benefits of Cloud Computing, But Accounting Falls Short

Each year, federal agencies spend $90 billion on IT. Cloud computing services—on-demand access to shared resources such as networks, servers, and data storage—can help agencies deliver better IT services for less money.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security migrated its network for information sharing and collaboration to the cloud, ensuring it remains continuously available for law enforcement and emergency response.

However, agencies don’t consistently track cloud-related savings, making it hard for them to make informed decisions on whether to use cloud services. The Government Accountability Office recommends that agencies improve their savings tracking.

The 16 agencies GAO reviewed made progress in implementing cloud computing services (cloud services)—namely, they established assessment guidance, performed assessments, and implemented these services—but the extent of their progress varied. To encourage cloud service acquisition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) began requiring agencies to assess all information technology (IT) investments for cloud services. However, only 10 of the 16 agencies reviewed had established assessment guidance. In addition, while the agencies assessed the majority of their planned fiscal year 2019 IT investments for cloud services, 12 agencies had not completed an assessment of 10 or more investments. Nevertheless, 10 of the agencies reported increasing their use of cloud services between fiscal years 2016 through 2019 (see figure). Six agencies noted that inconsistent reporting of cloud investments and investment consolidation impacted their reported percentage.

Further, the 16 agencies reported that they had increased their cloud service spending since 2015 and 13 of the 16 agencies had saved $291 million to date from these services. However, these agencies identified issues in tracking and reporting cloud spending and savings data, including not having consistent processes in place to do so. Agencies also noted that OMB guidance did not require them to explicitly report savings from cloud implementations and, therefore, they had to specifically collect this data to meet GAO’s request. As a result of these identified issues, it is likely that agency-reported cloud spending and savings figures were underreported.

Officials from 15 of the 16 agencies reported that they had identified significant benefits from acquiring cloud services, including improved customer service and the acquisition of more cost-effective options for managing IT services. In addition, these agencies identified nine cloud investments that, among other things, enhanced the availability of weather-related information, facilitated collaboration and information sharing among federal, state, and local agencies related to homeland security, and provided benefits information to veterans, as examples of systems that realized these benefits. One agency reported that it had not realized benefits because it did not have any completed migration efforts.

Read the report at GAO

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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