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The last U.S administration is gone. They had grand plans for IT to improve government? What happened would be funny if it didn’t portend such tragedy.

Buzz, buzz, buzz – the feds love their grand labels and abbreviations. Remember: “Cloud First”, or “The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI)”, and how about the first Federal CIO – Vivek Kundra? There is a lot more from the last administration but let’s just dig into these.

“Cloud First” goal was to get the feds to stop buying mountains of IT equipment and software that often became stranded or obsolete and start buying computing power and applications as a utility-like service (cloud computing) where you only pay for what you needed.

This was a good idea from Kundra – our first Federal CIO brought onboard in 2009. Someone was finally charged with taking an overall view. Thank goodness! It was about time we got one. The government has been buying and using computers since the end of WWII. And, once bought they seem to live forever: the IRS has systems 56 years old!

When Kundra started his job the U.S. was spending a staggering $80B on IT annually (today we are up to $89B). Bottom line: we spend A LOT of money on IT with tons of it wasted; many (most) of our systems are old and nowhere near the price/performance that can be had today, and one more thing: we spend up to 90% of the funds on just maintaining these old clunkers. We are running as hard as we can just to stand still. Cloud was a way to transition from the old way and technology to the best and latest.

How did it work out? Here are some recent observations:

So, things are not so good. Kundra left in 2011 after two-and-a-half years in the role.

One of his other well-intentioned programs also started with his arrival: reduce the number of federal data centers that had grown like topsy over the years. Again, another good idea – reduce the overlap and unnecessary duplication.

The plan was to close or optimize 40 percent of the government’s data centers. At the time, the number of data centers was estimated at 3,133 (can you believe it?). By 2013, the government estimated it had more than 6,000 data centers, and later that year, that number climbed to 7,000 before GAO’s official tally of 9,700 in 2014. But as they say: “Wait, there is more!” The GAO’s official count is now 11,700!

So how did we do here in closing data centers? Well, they did claim to close 3,125 for a total savings of $2.8B in fiscal years 2011 through 2015. You have got to love the way the government thinks it saves money. Now, I am not saying $2.8B is not real money but it represents the cumulative savings over four years or an average of $700K/year. The fed IT budget is now $89B per year. The savings are a pittance in the big picture. They didn’t close data centers; they closed equipment closets!

So after eight years, there is not much to show for it. Unfortunately, theses are not the only examples of poor IT management in the government. There are way too many more examples. Do we all remember “Healthcare.gov”!

And, it doesn’t stop:

  • NASA cooks a satellite because of an IT failure.
  • The federal government has the worst customer experience – largely because of its systems.
  • An IG finds that the Interior Department left systems unprotected for years.
  • No one with new cutting edge skills want to work for the feds in IT – there are three times as many people over the age of 60 as under 30

Here is the tragedy. Our world lives and breathes information and technology. A major institution in everyone’s life – The U.S. Federal Government – operates IT like it was the 1970’s, not too mention it’s too damn expensive.

Something has to change. Institutions can and do fail. In the same time period of the last administration we have had the explosion of smartphones, ubiquitous broadband, the emergence of self-driving cars and Artificial Intelligence. The feds just keep falling farther behind. Like I said, the government’s machinations with IT would almost be funny if they weren’t so tragic.

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