In my 15 months on the job, I have often said that the Recovery Board listens closely to the public and responds to its suggestions and concerns. Indeed, in recent weeks, members of the Board and staff have been in Iowa, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Louisiana, the state of Washington and California taking the pulse of state and local officials and average Americans. It’s called getting outside the Beltway and not being confined to the thinking of official Washington.
I mention these recent outreach efforts to let you know that your opinions about the Board’s activities and Recovery.gov are not getting lost in the bureaucracy. From Day One of the Board’s creation, we have listened to our stakeholders – the American public, Congress, interest groups, IT professionals, and public officials at all levels. We launched version 2.0 of Recovery.gov last September but only after seeking and implementing many of the ideas we got from our stakeholders.
Just the other day, to develop this point further, the Board took a major step in the technology world, moving Recovery.gov to a cloud computing infrastructure developed by Amazon.com. What, you might ask, took us on this historic path to the cloud? Many of you played a big role, urging us to take advantage of cloud technology. The Board’s technical team agreed. But we moved cautiously, thoroughly researching cost, management and security issues before we decided at 9:48 p.m. on April 26 to flip the switch and become the first government-wide technology system to use the cloud infrastructure.
Moving to the cloud sounds like technological gibberish but the reality is not all that difficult to comprehend. Put simply, the Board no longer has to manage Recovery.gov’s physical data center and related computer equipment. Through a contract with our website’s developer, Smartronix, Inc., Amazon now hosts our website and provides computing power as needed.
So what does this mean to you, the users of our website? For starters, our analysis shows, we are saving taxpayer dollars, about $750,000 over the next year and a half, and we expect to reap even more savings in the years to follow. Consider this: We are a small outfit with four dozen employees so imagine if other, much larger federal agencies were to follow our lead--the savings would be magnified many times over.
But a bigger balance in our checkbook was not the only benefit to be found in the cloud. Users are getting faster service, we are conserving energy, and our team of contractors and staffers are focusing more intently on the core mission of providing rich content on our website. And since we no longer have to invest in infrastructure, we are redirecting those computer hardware and software assets to our oversight program, specifically our Recovery Operations Center, known as the ROC. These new assets will give us more firepower, as the ROC tracks Recovery spending around the country, an undertaking that already has led to many investigative referrals to appropriate Inspectors General.
Our website also is more secure. We have added Amazon’s security platform to our own security system. But even if someone hacked into Recovery.gov and changed recipient data, our security team says that it would take only five minutes to refresh and restore the data. We also have a back-up system protecting all recipient data, and Amazon has assured us, in writing, that Recovery.gov runs only on U.S. servers. And, finally, remember this: We do not need the level of security necessary to protect highly confidential or classified information. None of our data is confidential. The whole idea is to display the data in a user-friendly and transparent way.
Looking back, after the President selected me as Chairman in February last year, I remember reading the section of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that required the Board to develop a user-friendly website that would foster greater accountability and transparency.
That provision gave me pause, as it probably did my fellow Board members, all from the Inspector General community. We knew all about accountability. That’s what we do for a living. But building a website that would serve millions of citizens wasn’t on any of our resumes. As it turns out, after much hard work by a dedicated team of staffers and outside contractors, we got the job done.
Now, after taking this next step into the cloud, we are helping lead government efforts to use the newest and best technology.
Welcome to the cloud.