VanRoekel helping Congress grasp benefits of cloud

Interview with Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, part 1

Jason Miller | June 4, 2015 4:34 pm

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel isn’t concerned about possible pushback from Congress now that agencies are in full cloud computing mode.

But VanRoekel said he’s not taking congressional buy-in for granted, especially after lawmakers forced the Army to pause and report back to them on the benefits of putting their email system in the cloud.

“It’s an opportunity for us to work with Congress, to work with the Army and the Department of Defense to think about this stuff,” he said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio after a recent AFFIRM lunch in Washington, D.C. “I think we have a great opportunity to work with industry on evolving the cloud and cloud technology to meet the needs of a 21st century government. It’s there in large part especially in a business-model side and I think on a technology side we could really take it further. I’ve been personally working with NIST — and as an extension of that, the industry — to rethink the cloud as we know it. I think we have an opportunity to continuously improve and drive this stuff forward.”

From the General Services Administration to the Agriculture Department to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, most agencies have moved at least one back-office function to the cloud over the last year. A recent Federal News Radio survey of CIOs and deputy CIOs found 83 percent of the respondents said they either had met or would meet the 2011 deadline to move at least one system to the cloud. And respondents said the two other functions they most likely would move to the cloud in 2012 included websites or Web hosting, email or collaboration tools, data storage or data centers, and test and development platforms.


Army email provision a sign of things to come?

But as agencies are going full bore toward the cloud, Congress is starting to show some trepidation.

Lawmakers put a provision in the 2012 Defense Authorization bill requiring the Army to pause its move to cloud and mandating that DoD develop a report describing “program specifics, including requirements, an analysis of alternatives and expected costs and savings,” Army deputy CIO Mike Krieger wrote in a recent blog post.

“The conferees note their concern about the execution of the migration of Army enterprise email services, but also recognize that currently many Army users have already migrated to the new Defense Information Systems Agency-provided solution,” lawmakers wrote in a report accompanying the conference agreement.

DoD CIO Teri Takai also must submit a separate report looking at the benefits of cloud across the Pentagon.

VanRoekel said he’s taking several steps to ensure cloud doesn’t fall victim to the same congressional oversight that e-government faces and has faced for the last seven years. OMB must submit an annual report to Congress detailing the benefits of e-government and how it spent the E-Government Fund. Agencies also can’t spend money on e-government initiatives without first informing Congress 15 days in advance of any outlays.

“I’m spending a lot of personal time talking to Congress about what the benefits are and carrying forward data,” he said. “The key here is showing people the real, live data and, if you think about cost benefit analysis, it comes down to people, it comes down to re-occurring costs, it comes down to other things.”

VanRoekel said the current model of asking Congress for a huge capital investment every three to five years doesn’t work. Instead, he wants lawmakers to understand the value of moving to an operating-expenses model

VanRoekel said this where an agency pays one consistent fee and gets upgrades, patching and expertise in real-time.

“The long term impact is pretty fundamental,” he said. “We need that data and we need to carry that forward. I’m not only doing it myself. I’m telling that story and using examples of where it’s going well to carry those to Congress for conversation pieces, but I’m also calling on the industry to do it. I asked people to engage with Congress and never underestimate our ability and the necessity to engage with Congress on having those conversations.”

Vendor management organization pilots to start

VanRoekel also wants to make it easier for agencies to have internal conversations about what they are buying.

He said the pilots of vendor management organizations across four agencies this spring will help inform the future of the initiative. In November, VanRoekel announced the plan, which would have “one-door” for vendors at agencies.

“The agency doing the most is the IRS,” he said. “They have a VMO that is yielding some really nice results and we are taking them as a best-case example and trying to scale that to some other agencies and working with them to get it done. This is an evolving process. We are looking at how we implement them, how we think about vendor management and how we are getting feedback from the vendor community. What we want to do is deliver the best service to the agency at the lowest level of complexity.”

VanRoekel said currently agencies have too many doors and that causes inconsistency and unpredictability across the department.

He said, “different parts of the agency will be investing in different ways often with the same vendor. This gives us the ability to just look inside the agency to determine where is duplication, where we can streamline those things and pull them through. We don’t want to slow down innovation. So if one door slows down getting people in to really get the job done that is not the approach we will take. We will learn from the pilots and take it forward from there.”

This inconsistency is a major problem with how agencies buy mobile devices and services.

VanRoekel said part of the reason for developing a federal mobile strategy is to take aim at the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars agencies waste each year.

“Our first objective is to go into agencies and really streamline the way we acquire those types of things inside the given agencies,” he said. “We have many agencies with hundreds of mobile contracts and pay different levels employee-to-employee based on what they do. We also have challenges around inventory management. DHS recently went in and culled through all their unused devices and saved millions of dollars by shutting off devices sitting in desk drawers that weren’t being used.”

VanRoekel tasked GSA with coming up with a plan and series of contracts over the next 180 days to streamline how agencies acquire devices, voice and data services that takes advantage of the government’s size and buying power.


Army’s migration to cloud email pushed back at least 45 days

CIOs influence growing around mission, budget, survey finds

E-gov spending to continue declining in 2010

OMB wants ‘single door’ for vendors at each agency