AR Trey Hodgkins

The Costs and Risks of Uncle Sam’s Dependence on Legacy IT Systems

Tomorrow, lawmakers will be sitting down to hear about a brewing problem in the federal government: Uncle Sam’s addiction to outdated and antiquated legacy information technology (IT) systems that cost taxpayers an estimated 80 percent of the annual IT budget each year. It’s an issue the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS), a division of ITI, and our member technology companies have advocated solutions to since our launch a few years ago.

We applaud the committee for drawing attention to this issue, and we hope the hearing will be a wakeup call to their colleagues on Capitol Hill.

In a preview of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, the panel references a Government and Accountability Office (GAO) report expected to be released soon, which finds that “federal legacy IT investments are becoming increasingly obsolete” and rely on outdated software and systems that are no longer supported. In some cases, the GAO is expected to note the federal government relies on some systems that are 50 years old – so old, in fact, that some companies have had to dig through their archives to find pictures and information on these Mad Men era technologies.

It’s more than a punchline, the federal government’s reliance on outdated technologies poses a serious security risk. But there is an opportunity for Congress to solve the problem if they take the following steps:

  • Inventory Uncle Sam’s IT: Federal agencies and entities need to conduct an inventory of their IT systems in order to understand the universe of systems that exist, especially as a first step towards assessing for vulnerabilities.
  • Make Acquisition Work in the Digital Age: The funding and acquisition cycles used to buy IT goods and services are from another era, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the system is plagued by technology that is better suited for a museum. Currently, Congress doesn’t fund IT investments to keep pace with product and service innovations. This out-of-date, multi-year process actually ends up costing the taxpayers more.
  • Embrace Life-Cycle Value Versus Lowest Cost: Time and again we see that the lowest price upfront doesn’t equate into the lowest cumulative price down the road over the life of an IT system.
  • Reduce Duplicative Burdens and Unleash the Benefits of Big Data: Policymakers should also identify ways to eliminate duplicative or redundant requirements and make sure that data generated by the government is captured by the government, instead of requiring agencies and vendors to recreate information the government already possesses.
  • It’s time to Upgrade: We shouldn’t miss the larger point of the hearing, which is federal agencies and entities are stuck in a time warp, paying billions upon billions of dollars to keep putting band aids on old and outdated technologies that need to be replaced. The benefits will far outweigh the costs to upgrade.

Like any other facet of our economy or society, the government increasingly relies on technology to get the job done. It provides capabilities and data for our armed services that can change the course of events and save lives. It means more convenience and enhanced services for citizens for civilian agencies, more efficiency for hard-working public servants, and greater value and savings for the taxpayer. For all the promise technology holds, we suspect the Committee will hear that there are still too many bureaucratic barriers that need to be addressed. Will anyone be listening? We hope so.

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