The Homeland Defense Department will begin testing a new way of provisioning desktop and mobile computing services to employees, using DHS’s private cloud computing services, DHS Chief Information Officer Richard Spires said Tuesday.

The new service will enable employees to order “a virtual desktop capability, with a series of mobile devices–tablets, smartphones–bundled where you pay a fee per user for month,” he said.

“We’re seeing price points significantly below what we’re paying today. We think this is a real game changer, not just technology-wise, but business-wise, he said, at the Executive Leadership Conference which concluded yesterday in Williamsburg, Va.

The “workplace as a service,” which DHS will introduce in a pilot test phase in January, is one of several initiatives Spires is taking to streamline and standardize information technology and save money across DHS, said Spires (pictured above, center, with Lisa Schlosser, deputy administrator for e-government at the Office of Management and Budget and Dave Wennergren, assistant deputy chief management officer at the Defense Department.)

Spires said the fact that each of DHS’s 22 components operate their own common operating picture systems is indicative of the larger dilemma DHS, and the federal government at large, faces in reigning in duplicative IT costs.

“We have set up a governance structure and are driving toward a common architecture,” he said, but added he also issued a memo to the CIOs of DHS’s components that makes it mandatory they use enterprise services for commodity IT, such as email, storage and computing power.

Spires, who also serves as co-chair of the Federal CIO Council, also said, “We need to build a stronger (IT) community” in the federal government.

One of the key issues, he said, is the lack of continuity in the roles and authority CIOs have ad different agencies.

Another is the lack of a repository of best practices that CIOs and agencies can share, and which is getting new attention at the Federal CIO Council.

“There just wasn’t an easy way to reach across government to find best practices,” he said, reflecting on his observations when he came into government, first at the Internal Revenue Service and then at DHS. “It just wasn’t there. I really believe that’s so key to success to the federal community,” he said.

Spires said the CIO Council was planning to reinstitute offsite gatherings of federal CIOs that had once been an important venue for helping CIOs address “the common issues we face.”

One of those issues will clearly be the looming budget cuts.

Agency executives will need to come terms with the fact that “sunk costs” and the notion that it takes money to make major efficiency improvements will no longer fly the way it once did with budget staffs , said Dave Wennergren.

“So just because you spent $50 million on something doesn’t mean you should spend another penny on it,” he said, in describing the type of disciplines that are now likely to shape federal IT investment decisions he said at the conference.

For more coverage of the Executive Leadership Conference, see ELC here.

The Executive Leadership Conference is sponsored by The American Council for Technology (ACT) – Industry Advisory Council (IAC).