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Sequestration stymies federal government cloud ambitions

The federal government is under mandates to consolidate data centers and deliver IT as a Service, but sequestration makes this easier said than done.

This year's budget sequestration has prompted some federal agencies to consider cloud computing, but other agencies might lack the budget to even investigate new technologies, according to IT industry experts who work in the federal government space.

Sequestration, or budget cuts to particular categories of federal spending, began March 1. One of the many effects of sequestration is that certain civilian personnel are working four-day weeks, essentially taking a 20% pay cut.

If it's not mission-critical right now, the money for cloud projects is probably not going to flow.

Whitney Vickrey,
CSO, Global Capital enterprises

This shortage of staff and budget presents the perfect opportunity for agencies to cut costs with cloud computing, according to Maria Horton, founder of EmeSec, a third-party assessment organization (3PAO) advising commercial companies in the Washington, D.C. area.

"3PAOs and cloud are growing in a usually flat federal market," Horton said. "We are seeing a number of agencies that are moving very quickly to the cloud, implementing a cloud-first policy."

But others who work in the federal government say that budget cuts have been so deep in some cases that there aren't funds to fully investigate new initiatives, such as the cloud.

"I had one department bring us in for a presentation, but because of the sequester, they just didn't have the money to do anything," said Whitney Vickrey, chief service officer for Washington, D.C.-based financial Software as a Service provider Global Capital Enterprises (GCE).

There are several initiatives afoot that aim to streamline the government's IT operations and encourage the use of cloud computing practices. The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative's goal is for agencies to close 40% of the federal government's data centers, with up to 962 total closures expected by fiscal year 2015.

There's also the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), which provides one-time assessment and qualification guidelines for cloud computing providers so each agency doesn't have to repeat the request-for-proposal process.

GCE already has the Department of Labor and its 13 sub-agencies as clients, but that project took 18 months between 2008 and 2010 to go live.

At other agencies, "nobody wants to be the pioneer," Vickrey said.

"If it drastically impacts war fighters or the security of the homeland, the money is probably there," said a federal tech contractor speaking on condition of anonymity. "But if it's not mission-critical right now, the money for cloud projects is probably not going to flow."

Typically, funding and purchasing in government are compressed toward the end of the budget cycle, so there may be more spending later on this year, this contractor said, but in the meantime, "there's not a lot that agencies can do but keep the lights on."

For agencies that are pursuing cloud, obstacles still remain, including the fact that so far FedRAMP has identified only three Infrastructure as a Service companies that are eligible for government contracts. Amazon Web Services was just qualified this week.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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