Changing Times


Let’s be honest. One big reason federal agencies are moving swiftly to shift data and applications to the much-touted cloud is to save money. The prospect of paring as much as $5 billion per year from the $80 billion federal IT budget by outsourcing data storage and operations is irresistible to cash-strapped agency officials, not to mention their overseers in Congress and the Obama administration.

But if that were the only impact of the headlong rush to move key federal operations to cloud-based systems, it wouldn’t be worth devoting a big chunk of an issue of a magazine like this one to the trend. The reason we’ve chosen to do so this month is that the cloud has the potential to fundamentally change the way agencies and the people who work for them get government’s business done.

After all, as Joe Marks reports in this issue, if everybody is working in the cloud, what’s the advantage to being in the office, as opposed to at home or in some other location? Theoretically at least, making applications available via the Internet levels the playing field. And for managers who may not have led the charge in terms of innovation, it leaves them no choice but to adapt to working in a new and different way.

That, in turn, could give a long-awaited boost to telework in the federal government—especially when coupled with another budget driver: the increasing cost of office space. And it could increase the pace at which agencies adopt mobile technologies.

Even more significantly, the cloud could hold the key to fundamentally changing the way government delivers services. One relatively small example: Adam Stone reports in this issue how the Securities and Exchange Commission’s
Office of Investor Education and Advocacy turned to to manage interactions with the public. As a result, connections via email, Web, mail, fax and phone are all handled in a single electronic system. 

In larger government organizations, the sheer scale of operations makes moving to the cloud a daunting challenge—even for something seemingly as simple as adopting a new email system. One example: Stone reports that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration migrated 36 terabytes of data in 19 separate email systems— 150 million messages in all—to its new Google Apps-based system.

Right now, email shifts like this—large and small—are the highest-profile cloud computing efforts in the federal sector. But they are just the beginning. That makes it a little hard at this stage to separate the hype from the reality when it comes to the future of the cloud. And there’s another factor that makes projecting what a cloud-based government will look like difficult: Security standards have just begun to emerge. Aliya Sternstein notes in her report this month that FedRAMP, a fast-track security certification process, is just beginning to take off. It could be two years or so before agencies begin seeing the benefits of a streamlined process for picking pre-approved cloud products. 

Patience may be required, because one thing is for sure: The imperative to fundamentally change the way government does business isn’t going to go away.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.