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Editorial: GSA must step up to its role in the cloud

Sep. 9, 2012 - 02:26PM   |  
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Federal agencies are rushing to adopt cloud computing services, lured by the promise of huge savings and operational efficiencies.

The General Services Administration was tasked to lead the push in 2009 as part of the Obama administration’s IT reform plan. GSA’s role has evolved to include certifying vendors and launching contracting vehicles to help other agencies streamline their moves to the cloud.

But GSA has been left in the dust.

Unable to wait out GSA delays in certifying vendors and in establishing a governmentwide contract for email services, many agencies have simply gone out and made deals on their own, even though it’s meant they’ve had to use their own funds to certify vendors independently.

Turns out the savings are so great that they can’t afford to wait on GSA.

Certification isn’t easy. GSA has signed deals with a dozen cloud service providers under one contract, but so far, only five have earned GSA’s Authority to Operate. It took Google more than a year to certify that it could securely provide email tools for GSA.

Pricing has also been a problem. In June, GSA’s inspector general found a price spread of 55 percent between two contractors doing identical work.

All of this combined raises questions about whether GSA is up to the task of leading a governmentwide drive to the cloud — and whether it is even providing value in this area.

If agencies are able and willing to move out on their own — and can do so more effectively, efficiently and quickly than by waiting on GSA — then GSA isn’t delivering the value it was designed to provide.

GSA hopes to regain the upper hand with new security standards called FedRAMP — for Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. Agencies must by 2014 either use FedRAMP-certified vendors through GSA or ensure their private choice of vendor meets FedRAMP standards. Whether this is GSA providing standardization and value, or rather that it is simply catching up to where federal agencies already are, remains to be seen.

But what is clear is this: GSA’s cloud initiatives must either provide technical or financial value, or GSA will rapidly become a superfluous government entity.

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