The feds' data center debacle makes look good

A government effort to reduce its data centers had the opposite effect, and no heads rolled. Time is running out to fix federal IT

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It's long been obvious that IT procurement is a mess, and while O'Keeffe says (rightly, I think) that the botched rollout of the site for registering people into the Obamacare insurance exchanges was more than an IT issue, that debacle focused a lot of attention on an area that few people outside the IT industry every think about.

Application sprawl is the enemy
The government IT structure is huge, and by its nature, it requires lots of applications. But there's far too much duplication of applications, and that's a major contributor to data center proliferation, says O'Keeffe, pointing his finger at VanRoekel. "The sandman shut his eyes while applications sprawled -- 777 supply chain and 600-plus HR systems," according to the GAO.

O'Keeffe says the lack of central control makes it impossible to slim down the application load. In fact, Richard Spires, the former CIO of the huge Department of Homeland Security, was fired for trying to do just that, he says. Each agency within Homeland Security wanted to do things its own way. "If everyone has to have it the way they want, everything is custom and nothing is off-the-shelf."

These are big problems, but there isn't a huge amount of time to fix them, says Bob Otto, a former CIO of the U.S. Postal Service. "While current IT budgets are hardly robust, future ones will be even tighter. Furthermore, technology is entering a period of rapid change that will leave today's legacy environments further behind," he wrote in a blog post late last year.

O'Keeffe's indictment of VanRoekel may be too harsh given his lack of authority. And some might argue that the vast size of the federal IT system and its $80 billion budget makes it almost impossible to govern. But given the central role of IT, how can we afford not to fix it?

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