FedRAMP not delivering on promise of standard authorization

Nearly five years after the federal government launched the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) and more than three years after the first FedRAMP authorization, many federal sector observers are questioning the effectiveness and even the relevance of the program. Although the number of FedRAMP-authorized service providers continues to grow – including as of June 21 the first set of providers authorized at a high FIPS 199 security categorization level – the more rapid adoption of cloud computing services FedRAMP was intended to facilitate has been hampered by many federal agencies’ unwillingness to accept FedRAMP authorization as sufficient for granting their own authorization to operate (ATO) or to accept ATOs granted by other agencies. This lack of reciprocity was highlighted by former Navy CIO and Department of Defense Deputy CIO Dave Wennergren in a commentary written for Federal Computer Week, in which he suggests that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) needs to require agencies to accept ATOs previously granted by other agencies or by the FedRAMP Joint Authorization Board (JAB) to avoid the delays and unnecessary spending associated with the current prevalent practice of each agency repeating the authorization process even when selecting the same cloud service provider. As an example, the Department of Defense in January issued Defense Acquisition Services instructions to all DoD components that requires cloud service providers to obtain both a DoD provisional authorization from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and an ATO from the component’s authorizing official. This means that even DoD programs that choose to use one of the services DISA has already authorized under FedRAMP (such as Amazon Web Services Government Community Cloud, Microsoft’s Office365 Multi-Tenant & Supporting Services, or Verizon’s Enterprise Cloud Federal Edition) still need to complete an agency-specific ATO, and they cannot choose FedRAMP-authorized providers whose authorization came from another agency or JAB. This behavior is common among civilian agencies as well, who appear no more likely than the DoD to accept the judgment of the JAB or of agencies with ostensibly stricter security requirements than their own.

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