Two Cloud Computing Provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2021

Published: January 06, 2021

Federal Market AnalysisCloud ComputingCBPDOEEPAInformation TechnologyPolicy and Legislation

Cloud computing continues to grab Congress’ attention.

Key Takeaways

  • Section 1103 could generate a cloud storage requirement at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • An assessment required by Congress concerning the energy consumption of various technology solutions may prompt agencies to further outsource computing/data center infrastructure.

The recent enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) for 2021 (H.R. 133) provided federal agencies with the funding they need to conduct business for the remaining 3 quarters of fiscal 2021. Two provisions included in the bill concern cloud computing and one or both of these may result in requirements. He is a summary of the relevant sections with thoughts added about the possible implications for industry.

Department of Homeland Security

Congress included Section 1103 to order a technology needs analysis for the southern U.S. border. This section requires the Secretary of DHS to submit the analysis of needs along the southwest border to the appropriate congressional committees by December 2021. The analysis is to include an “assessment of the technology needs and gaps along the southwest border,” required to improve border security. The section places special emphasis on IT requirements for data capture, biometrics, and cloud storage.

Implications for Industry

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) already works with a number of vendors, including IBM, which stood up a hybrid cloud environment for the agency a couple of years back. It is unknown if the Section 1103 needs analysis will lead CBP to seek a commercial partner to fill any gaps that are identified in the agency’s technology environment, but it may be worthwhile for those with contacts at the agency to check in on the progress of the mandated study in case a requirement for cloud storage emerges independent of the agency’s existing hybrid environment. The possibility also exists that the needs analysis might recommend the CBP develop an entirely new system dedicated to the capture of border crossing data and biometrics.

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency

Covered under the Energy Act of 2020, which was passed as part of the CAA 2021, both the DOE and EPA are required under Section 1003 to “assess the adequacy of the specifications, measurements, best practices, and benchmarks described” for increasing data center efficiency. This assessment is to be conducted “in collaboration with the information technology industry and other key stakeholders, with the goal of producing results that accurately reflect the most relevant and useful information” and made available to the public within 4 years. The analysis is required to consider the impact of technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing, including “an evaluation of the impact of the combination of cloud platforms, mobile devices, social media, and big data on data center energy usage.”

Implications for Industry

This section makes it clear that some in Congress remain concerned about the amount of energy federal agency data centers are using, which translates into the dollars that agencies are spending. The required assessment is intended to clarify how much energy that technologies agencies commonly use either save (e.g., outsourced cloud) or cost (e.g., big data analysis in agency data centers). While conducting such an analysis may require an industry partner, the likelihood is that DOE and EPA will carry it out on their own. The assessment’s results could then be used to inform agency decisions on further outsourcing.