I attended the latest briefing at the White House complex, where Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients, and other Executive Branch officials reported on implementation of the Administration’s IT Reform Agenda.
As I've previously written , the IT reform agenda is an aggressive effort to refocus the more than $80 billion spent on technology infrastructure by the Federal government. Among the steps announced yesterday is that 137 federal data centers will close by the end of the year. (Kundra reported that 39 have already closed.) Almost one-third of the closures – 52 – will occur at the Department of Defense. Fifteen (15) other agencies will see data center cutbacks, too, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Energy, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Treasury, Agriculture, Justice, the and Veterans Affairs, as well as NASA, USAID, and General Services Administration.
That's quite a down payment toward the Administration's stated goal of eliminating 800 of the U.S. government’s more than 2,000 data centers by 2015.
Among other highlights of the briefing: Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman focused on how his department is “aggressively” engaged in cloud use and adoption; Deputy USDA Secretary Kathleen Merrigan described efforts to seriously pare down its number of data centers; VA's Roger Baker discussed the administration's plans to eliminate or revise underperforming IT projects; and DHS CIO Richard Spires spoke of efforts to promote IT best practices.
What was apparent to me, listening to Kundra, Zients, and various agency representatives report on the progress made is an important theme that the majority of the press is missing: the mainstreaming of open source and open standards.
Kundra emphasized efforts to 'productize' governance initiatives like the IT Dashport and TechStart, which he pointed out have been open sourced and used to train hundreds in the Federal government and to promote collaboration, both with states and other governments. DOE Deputy Secretary Poneman also highlighted the National Training and Education Resource, an open source platform “designed to revolutionize how online training and education is delivered” on a wide variety of topics.
And while the central focus of the IT Reform Agenda emphasizes the 'cloud-first' policy (primarily as a viable alternative to data centers), what also came through today were the key open source principles of sharing a 'common platform', reuse of software, modularity in software building blocks, and interoperability. It's a far cry from what we've seen other governments, such as Australia and the UK, recently announce as broad policies favoring open source and open standards. With few exceptions (most notably the Department of Defense), the US government has historically taken a more cautious approach. Nonetheless, the themes were there, and senior officials were talking about 'open source' initiatives as easily as they talked about other aspects of the agenda. That is a key part of what the mainstreaming of open source is about.
What also came through clearly is a question that is increasingly being asked (see e.g.,Kundra takes on federal IT reform, in the Washington Post ): how is this vision of reform being institutionalized? Is it enduring? Kundra and the other officials had some good answers, as they spoke of 'hardwiring' across the government and engaging the community (vendors, users, advocates, etc.). But they also recognized that this is a work in progress. It's an important question, and one that we haven't seen the final chapter concluded, yet.