Fast Facts

Each year, federal agencies spend $90 billion on IT. Cloud computing services—on-demand access to shared resources such as networks, servers, and data storage—can help agencies deliver better IT services for less money.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security migrated its network for information sharing and collaboration to the cloud, ensuring it remains continuously available for law enforcement and emergency response.

However, agencies don't consistently track cloud-related savings, making it hard for them to make informed decisions on whether to use cloud services. We recommended that agencies improve their savings tracking.

The Homeland Security Information Network is one example of a federal system using cloud services.

Photo of a man working on a laptop that displays information from the Department of Homeland Security's network for information sharing and collaboration.

Photo of a man working on a laptop that displays information from the Department of Homeland Security's network for information sharing and collaboration.

Skip to Highlights
Highlights

What GAO Found

The 16 agencies GAO reviewed made progress in implementing cloud computing services (cloud services)—namely, they established assessment guidance, performed assessments, and implemented these services—but the extent of their progress varied. To encourage cloud service acquisition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) began requiring agencies to assess all information technology (IT) investments for cloud services. However, only 10 of the 16 agencies reviewed had established assessment guidance. In addition, while the agencies assessed the majority of their planned fiscal year 2019 IT investments for cloud services, 12 agencies had not completed an assessment of 10 or more investments. Nevertheless, 10 of the agencies reported increasing their use of cloud services between fiscal years 2016 through 2019 (see figure). Six agencies noted that inconsistent reporting of cloud investments and investment consolidation impacted their reported percentage.

Agency Information Technology (IT) Investments That Used Cloud Services, as Reported on the IT Dashboard for Fiscal Years 2016-2019 (projected)

Agency Information Technology (IT) Investments That Used Cloud Services, as Reported on the IT Dashboard for Fiscal Years 2016-2019 (projected)

Further, the 16 agencies reported that they had increased their cloud service spending since 2015 and 13 of the 16 agencies had saved $291 million to date from these services. However, these agencies identified issues in tracking and reporting cloud spending and savings data, including not having consistent processes in place to do so. Agencies also noted that OMB guidance did not require them to explicitly report savings from cloud implementations and, therefore, they had to specifically collect this data to meet GAO's request. As a result of these identified issues, it is likely that agency-reported cloud spending and savings figures were underreported.

Officials from 15 of the 16 agencies reported that they had identified significant benefits from acquiring cloud services, including improved customer service and the acquisition of more cost-effective options for managing IT services. In addition, these agencies identified nine cloud investments that, among other things, enhanced the availability of weather-related information, facilitated collaboration and information sharing among federal, state, and local agencies related to homeland security, and provided benefits information to veterans, as examples of systems that realized these benefits. One agency reported that it had not realized benefits because it did not have any completed migration efforts.

Why GAO Did This Study

Cloud computing enables on-demand access to shared computing resources providing services more quickly and at a lower cost than having agencies maintain these resources themselves. In 2012, OMB began requiring agencies to assess all IT investments for cloud services.

GAO was asked to review agencies' reported use of cloud services. This report discusses selected agencies' progress in implementing cloud services, the extent to which those agencies increased cloud service spending and achieved savings or cost avoidances, and examples of agency-reported cloud investments with notable benefits. GAO selected 16 agencies to review based on their fiscal year 2017 IT budgets and analyzed their use of cloud services, associated spending and savings data, and guidance for assessing investments for these services. GAO interviewed agency officials in charge of cloud services and reviewed pertinent documents to identify acquisitions with notable benefits. GAO also interviewed OMB staff about their agency's role in federal cloud computing and related OMB guidance.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

GAO is making one recommendation to OMB on cloud savings reporting, and 34 recommendations to the 16 agencies on cloud assessments and savings. Fourteen agencies agreed with all recommendations, OMB and one agency neither agreed nor disagreed, and one (Defense) agreed with one recommendation but not the other. GAO continues to believe its recommendation to the department is appropriate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Management and Budget The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should require agencies to explicitly report, at least on a quarterly basis, the savings and cost avoidance associated with cloud computing investments. (Recommendation 1)
Open
As of February 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not yet taken any actions to implement our recommendation. We will continue to monitor OMB's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Agriculture The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the chief information officer (CIO) of Agriculture completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 2)
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Agriculture (Agriculture) concurred with, and has taken steps to address, our recommendation. In April 2020, a review of the IT Dashboard found that the department had completed an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to cloud computing services, in accordance with OMB guidance. By implementing our recommendation, Agriculture has increased insight into which investments are likely candidates for cloud service migration and is better positioned to take advantage of operational efficiencies, cost savings, and other benefits from the use of cloud services.
Department of Agriculture The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the CIO of Agriculture establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The Department of Agriculture (Agriculture) concurred with our recommendation and stated that it planned to develop a mechanism to track savings to implement this recommendation. Specifically, Agriculture officials reported in April 2020 that the department had established an office to assist with cloud migration efforts and instituted a process that requires cloud migration efforts to submit cost data and report cloud savings in accordance with OMB guidance. Officials noted that the department would implement a mechanism within one year once OMB issues guidance related to tracking savings (OMB has not yet implemented guidance in this area). As of May 2021, we have not received a more recent update from Agriculture regarding its implementation of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor Agriculture's progress on these efforts.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the CIO of Commerce establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 4)
Open
The Department of Commerce (Commerce) concurred with our recommendation and stated that it planned to develop a mechanism to track savings to implement this recommendation. In October 2019, Commerce officials noted that the department would update its current procedures related to tracking savings and cost avoidances within one year once OMB issues guidance related to tracking cloud savings (OMB has not yet implemented guidance in this area). As of May 2021, we have not received a more recent update from Commerce regarding its implementation of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor Commerce's progress with these efforts.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the CIO of Defense completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 5)
Open
The Department of Defense (Defense) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department planned to implement it. Specifically, in March 2021, Defense officials reported that the department's components were working to complete their assessments of investments for cloud services but did not provide a timeframe on when these would be finalized. We will continue to monitor Defense's progress on this effort.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the CIO of Defense establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 6)
Open
As of March 2021, the Department of Defense (Defense) has not yet taken any actions to implement our recommendation. We will continue to monitor Defense's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should ensure that the CIO of Education establishes guidance on assessing new and existing IT investments for suitability for cloud computing services, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 7)
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Education (Education) concurred with, and has taken steps to address, our recommendation. In February 2020, Education officials reported that the department had revised its Capital Planning and Investment Control Process Guide to include a requirement that all new and existing IT investments within the department are to be assessed for suitability for cloud services. Specifically, Education's revised guidance includes a process that describes how new investments are to be evaluated for cloud services and what criteria should be utilized. The guidance also requires that the department's Enterprise Review Board evaluate existing investments. By implementing our recommendation, Education is better positioned to ensure implementation of OMB's cloud guidance and take advantage of cloud services to improve operational efficiencies and minimize costs.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should ensure that the CIO of Education completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 8)
Open
The Department of Education (Education) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would complete an assessment of all IT investments for cloud services. An official from Education's Office of the Chief Information Officer reported in October 2020, that Education had completed a comprehensive review of its investments for cloud services and was working to update the data on the IT Dashboard to reflect that all assessments had been completed. We will continue to monitor Education's progress with this effort.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should ensure that the CIO of Education establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 9)
Open
The Department of Education (Education) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would take action to address it. In February 2020, Education officials reported that the department had taken steps to identify a number of cloud investments with cost savings and avoidance data as a part of the integrated data call required by OMB. However, as of May 2021 the department had not taken action to establish a mechanism for tracking savings as we recommended. We will continue to monitor Education's progress with this effort.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should ensure that the CIO of Energy updates the agency's guidance on assessing IT investments for suitability for cloud computing services to include a requirement to assess new acquisitions for these services. (Recommendation 10)
Open
The Department of Energy (Energy) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would updated its guidance to address our recommendation. In April 2021, an official from Energy's Office of the Chief Information Officer provided documentation and noted that it would address our recommendation. However, our review of the guidance found that it did not include language related to assessing new acquisitions for cloud services, as we recommended. We will continue to monitor Energy's progress with this effort.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should ensure that the CIO of Energy completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 11)
Open
The Department of Energy (Energy) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would update its IT budget guidance to address our recommendation. In February 2020, an official from Energy's Office of the Chief Information Officer provided a portion of its updated IT budget guidance and noted it would address our recommendation. However, our review of the guidance found that it did not include language on assessing investments for cloud services, as we had recommended. In addition, as of May 2021, based on our review of data on the IT Dashboard, Energy had not yet completed an assessment of 107 investments for these services. We will continue to monitor Energy's progress with this effort.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should ensure that the CIO of Energy establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 12)
Open
The Department of Energy (Energy) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the CIO would establish a mechanism to address our recommendation. In February 2020, Energy officials reported that they had identified a number of cloud investments with cost savings as part of the integrated data call required by OMB. However, as of May 2021, Energy had not taken action to establish a mechanism for tracking savings as we recommended. We will continue to monitor Energy's progress with this effort.
Department of Health and Human Services The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should ensure that the CIO of HHS establishes guidance on assessing new and existing IT investments for suitability for cloud computing services, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 13)
Open
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the Office of the CIO would revise its guidance by September 30, 2019 to address it. As of April 2021, we have not received a more recent update from HHS regarding its implementation of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor HHS's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Health and Human Services The Secretary of Health and Human Services should ensure that the CIO of HHS completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 14)
Open
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the CIO would complete an assessment of all IT investments as part of its portfolio review for fiscal year 2021. As of April 2021, we have not received a more recent update from HHS regarding its implementation of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor HHS's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Health and Human Services The Secretary of Health and Human Services should ensure that the CIO of HHS establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 15)
Open
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the CIO would take action to track savings as part of its portfolio review process for fiscal year 2021. As of April 2021, we have not received a more recent update from HHS regarding its implementation of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor HHS's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the CIO of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 16)
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concurred with, and has taken steps to address, our recommendation. In June 2021, a review of the IT Dashboard found that the department had completed an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to cloud computing services, in accordance with OMB guidance. By implementing our recommendation, DHS has increased insight into which investments are likely candidates for cloud service migration and is better positioned to take advantage of operational efficiencies, cost savings, and other benefits from the use of cloud services.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the CIO of DHS establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 17)
Open
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department was taking steps to implement it. Specifically, in October 2019, DHS officials reported that the department was working on a plan to define the resources and processes needed to implement a mechanism to track savings that would be completed by October 2020. As of March 2021, we have not received a more recent update from DHS regarding its implementation of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.
Department of Justice The Attorney General of the United States should ensure that the CIO of Justice completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 18)
Open
The Department of Justice (Justice) concurred with our recommendation, and stated that it would require components to assess all investments for cloud. An official from DOJ's Office of the Chief Information Officer reported in April 2021 that it was working to complete an assessment of its investments but did not provide a time frame on when these assessments would be concluded. We will continue to monitor Justice's progress with this effort.
Department of Justice The Attorney General of the United States should ensure that the CIO of Justice establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 19)
Open
The Department of Justice (Justice) concurred with our recommendation and stated that it would take action to address it. In December 2019, Justice officials reported that the department had taken steps to identify cloud investments and related savings data as part of an integrated data call required by OMB. However, as of May 2021, Justice had not taken action to establish a mechanism for tracking savings as we recommended. We will continue to monitor Justice's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Labor The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the CIO of Labor updates the agency's guidance on assessing IT investments for suitability for cloud computing services to include a requirement to assess existing investments for these services. (Recommendation 20)
Open
The Department of Labor (Labor) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department was taking steps to integrate a process for assessing investments for cloud computing suitability into its budgeting process. Specifically, in March 2021, Labor officials reported that the department was updating its policy to include a requirement to assess existing systems for cloud services and would finalize its policy by October 2021. We will continue to monitor Labor's progress on these efforts.
Department of Labor The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the CIO of Labor completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 21)
Open
The Department of Labor (Labor) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department planned to undertake a full review of data center-based applications for cloud suitability. Specifically, in August 2020, Labor officials reported that the department is continuing to review its IT investments for suitability for cloud migration, including evaluating the costs and technical benefits of migration. The department did not provide a time frame for when all assessments of investments would be completed. We will continue to monitor Labor's progress on these efforts.
Department of Labor The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the CIO of Labor establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 22)
Open
The Department of Labor (Labor) concurred with our recommendation and stated that it planned to develop a mechanism to track savings to implement this recommendation. Specifically, in August 2020, Labor officials reported that the department had established a cloud governance model and was focused on tracking the costs associated with each application in the cloud. However, the department did not provide a timeframe for when a mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration to cloud services would be finalized. We will continue to monitor Labor's progress on these efforts.
Department of State The Secretary of State should ensure that the CIO of State establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 23)
Open
The Department of State (State) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would develop a prototype tracking system. An official from State's Office of the Chief Information Officer reported in April 2021 that State would implement a method for tracking cost savings and avoidances from cloud services as part of its current Information Technology investment tracking system by June 2021. We will continue to monitor State's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of the Treasury The Secretary of the Treasury should ensure that the CIO of Treasury completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 24)
Open
As of March 2021, a Department of the Treasury (Treasury) official reported that the department was currently reviewing all of its IT investments to determine whether an assessment for cloud services had been performed. In addition, the Treasury official noted that the department was also reviewing its guidance on reporting assessments to determine whether any changes should be made. However, no timeframes were provided on when these activities would be finalized. We will continue to monitor Treasury's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of the Treasury The Secretary of the Treasury should ensure that the CIO of Treasury establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 25)
Open
As of March 2021, a Department of the Treasury (Treasury) official reported that the department was currently updating its internal guidance on reporting cost savings to OMB. In addition, the Treasury official noted that the department was also updating the templates used to collect the cost savings data to help ensure the savings associated with cloud implementation were appropriately identified. However, no timeframes were provided on when these activities would be finalized. We will continue to monitor Treasury's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the CIO of Transportation establishes guidance on assessing new and existing IT investments for suitability for cloud computing services. (Recommendation 26)
Open
The Department of Transportation (Transportation) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would updated its guidance to address it. In January 2020, the department provided documentation regarding its updated assessment process which stated that an assessment was to be performed on all investments in fiscal year 2020. However, the guidance did not require assessments of new IT investments after fiscal year 2020. As such, the guidance did not address our recommendation related to assessing new IT investments for suitability for cloud services. As of May 2021, we have not received a more recent update from Transportation regarding its implementation of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor Transportation's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the CIO of Transportation completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 27)
Open
The Department of Transportation (Transportation) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would complete an assessment of all investments for cloud services. As of May 2021, based on our review of the IT Dashboard, the department has not yet completed an assessment of 67 IT investments. We will continue to monitor Transportation's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the CIO of Transportation establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 28)
Open
The Department of Transportation (Transportation) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would develop a mechanism to address it. In January 2020, Transportation officials reported that they have developed criteria and a method to calculate savings associated with cloud usage. However, the department has indicated that cloud savings are tracked using OMB's IDC quarterly reporting, which is not a mechanism with which to track cloud computing savings and cost avoidances. As of May 2021, we have not received a more recent update from Transportation regarding its implementation of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor Transportation's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the CIO of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 29)
Open
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would take action to address it. In February 2021, VA officials reported that the department had begun an assessment process and expected to complete this effort by June 30, 2024. We will continue to monitor VA's progress in implementing this recommendation.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the CIO of VA establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 30)
Open
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with our recommendation and stated that the department would take action to address it. In February 2021, VA officials reported that the department is continuing efforts to populate a financial management application with data to track overall IT spending and cost savings, and indicated that target completion date would be June 2024. We will continue to monitor VA's progress in implementing this recommendation.
General Services Administration The Administrator of General Services should ensure that the CIO of the General Services Administration establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 31)
Closed - Implemented
The General Services Administration (GSA) concurred with, and has taken steps to address, our recommendation. Specifically, in February 2021, GSA finalized guidance, Cloud Investments Cost Saving and Cost Avoidance Data Collection Guidance, which establishes a process and methodology for data collection to determine the cost savings and cost avoidance for cloud migration or modernization projects. In addition, GSA has developed a spreadsheet that is used to track actual and planned cost savings and cost avoidances for each new and existing cloud project within the agency as part of the annual budget formulation process. By implementing our recommendation, GSA will be able to help ensure that the agency has sufficient information on the results of cloud acquisitions to data and the data necessary to make decisions regarding future cloud acquisitions.
Small Business Administration The Administrator of the Small Business Administration should ensure that the CIO of the Small Business Administration establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 32)
Open
The Small Business Administration (SBA) concurred with our recommendation and reported that the agency would take action to address it. In May 2021, SBA officials reported that the agency had established a tool for monitoring the costs associated with the migration and deployment of cloud services. However, based on a review of the documentation, SBA's mechanism for tracking savings and cost avoidances only collects this data on investments that are currently using cloud services. The mechanism does not track this data for investments that will be migrated to cloud services, as we recommended. We will continue to monitor SBA's progress toward implementing this recommendation.
Social Security Administration The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the CIO of the Social Security Administration (SSA) updates the agency's guidance on assessing IT investments for suitability for cloud computing services to include a requirement to assess existing investments for these services. (Recommendation 33)
Open
The Social Security Administration (SSA) concurred with our recommendation and reported that the agency would take action to address it. In April 2021, SSA officials reported that the agency was in the process of updating its guidance but did not provide a time frame on when the updated guidance would be finalized. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.
Social Security Administration The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the CIO of SSA completes an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to a cloud computing service, in accordance with OMB guidance. (Recommendation 34)
Closed - Implemented
The Social Security Administration (SSA) concurred with, and has taken steps to address, our recommendation. In June 2021, a review of the IT Dashboard found that the agency had completed an assessment of all IT investments for suitability for migration to cloud computing services, in accordance with OMB guidance. By implementing our recommendation, SSA has increased insight into which investments are likely candidates for cloud service migration and is better positioned to take advantage of operational efficiencies, cost savings, and other benefits from the use of cloud services.
Social Security Administration The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the CIO of SSA establishes a consistent and repeatable mechanism to track savings and cost avoidances from the migration and deployment of cloud services. (Recommendation 35)
Open
The Social Security Administration (SSA) concurred with our recommendation and reported that the agency would take action to address it. In April 2021, SSA officials reported that the agency was working to catalog its applications and quantify the associated costs and savings involved with cloud migration, and would have implementation plans completed by the end of September 2021. However, no timeframes were provided on when a savings mechanism would be developed and finalized. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

Full Report

GAO Contacts