Internet Protocol Version 6:

Federal Government in Early Stages of Transition and Key Challenges Remain

GAO-06-675: Published: Jun 30, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2006.

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The Internet protocol (IP) provides the addressing mechanism that defines how and where information such as text, voice, music, and video move across interconnected networks. IP version 4 (IPv4), which is widely used today, may not be able to accommodate the increasing number of global users and devices that are connecting to the Internet. As a result, Internet version 6 (IPv6) was developed to increase the amount of available address space. In August 2005, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum specifying activities and time frames for federal agencies to transition to IPv6. GAO was asked to determine (1) the status of federal agencies' efforts to transition to IPv6; (2) what emerging applications are being planned or implemented that take advantage of IPv6 features; and (3) key challenges industry and government agencies face as they transition to the new protocol.

Federal agencies have taken steps in planning for the transition to IPv6, but several have not completed key activities. For example, almost all of the 24 major agencies have assigned an official to lead and coordinate the IPv6 transition. However, ten agencies had not developed IPv6-related policies and enforcement mechanisms. Until agencies complete key activities, their transition planning efforts risk not being successful. To help address this risk, agencies are required to report their progress in completing key planning activities to OMB. Applications that take advantage of IPv6 features are being planned or implemented both within and outside of the federal government, including applications to support emergency response, enhance warfighting capabilities, and facilitate continuity of operations planning. However, these applications are few, in large part because organizations are still in the early stages of the transition or because they lack incentives to use the new protocol. Transitioning to IPv6 presents several challenges. Significant challenges include managing information security in an environment that is more vulnerable to threats; incorporating IPv6 features into applications' business cases to identify new and better ways of meeting mission goals; and interfacing with partners that may be in various stages of the transition. Other challenges include maintaining dual IPv4 and IPv6 environments for an extended period of time and implementing standards required by the use of the new protocol. All of these challenges could impede progress if they are not addressed by agencies as they proceed with the transition.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2009, the Federal Chief Information Officers' Council's Federal IPv6 Working Group issued a document entitled "Planning Guide/Roadmap Toward IPv6 Adoption within the US Government." This planning guide contains specific guidance for adopting the IPv6 protocol. Among other things, it discusses key challenges agencies face in transitioning to IPv6 that we identified in our report including developing a business case for IPv6 and security. OMB's Chief Architect was a key contributor to the guide.

    Recommendation: To strengthen agencies' IPv6 transition planning efforts, the Director of OMB should direct federal agencies to work through the CIO Council Architecture and Infrastructure Committee and the IPv6 Working Group to address challenges agencies face such as interfacing with external partners during the transition period as they proceed with the transition.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget


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