Bipartisan Members and Experts Agree that Federal Agencies Must Prioritize Modernizing Federal IT to Combat Coronavirus Crisis
Washington, D.C. (July 21, 2020)—This week, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, held a hearing to examine how the coronavirus pandemic exposed the federal government’s broken IT infrastructures and how legacy systems failed Americans when they needed aid most.
Current legacy systems are more expensive to maintain, more vulnerable to cybersecurity risks, and less effective in accomplishing agency missions. For too long agencies have deferred upgrades and maintenance, leaving the government with systems unable to adapt to unprecedented online unemployment claims and incapable of ensuring that stimulus checks went to individuals who had to choose between paying rent or buying groceries.
Chairman Connolly stressed that leadership needs to be dedicated to prioritizing IT modernization – or the investment doesn’t happen:
“Resources get marshalled because people follow the direction of the management. And management has to pay attention to it and make sure it’s being done,” the Chairman stated. “It’s not only money. It’s also about management will and leadership if we’re ever going to get some of these legacy systems retired.”
Witnesses included Gordon Bitko, Senior Vice President of Policy at the Information Technology Industry Council; Matthew Cornelius, Executive Director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation; Steve O’Keeffe, Founder of MeriTalk; and Hana Schank, Director of Strategy and Public Interest Technology at New America.
Members and witnesses agreed that federal agencies need to quickly retire their legacy systems and prioritize modernizing IT, such as adopting cloud computing technologies through FedRAMP, a program that enables agencies to quickly secure and adopt new technologies:
- Witnesses explained that federal CIOs that had moved their IT systems to the Cloud fared better in adapting to the new normal of remote work prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. O’Keefe stated, “Were there challenges in many of the legacy systems? Yes. And what we saw was that those agencies who already made the jump to the cloud were much more effective.”
- Witnesses raised concerns that legacy systems do not incorporate modern technology. “These systems were built for a time when people didn’t use computers from home,” Ms. Schank said. “They are built for phone, mail, fax, or in-person contact.”
- Witnesses agreed that agencies need consistent and dedicated funding streams to invest in modern, adaptable IT systems. Mr. Bitko, who formerly served as the CIO at the Federal Bureau of Investigation stated that, “Providing the quality of services that Americans expect and deserve means these systems must modernize to do more better and faster.”
- Witnesses encouraged Congress to invest in modernizing federal IT systems, including investing in the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF). Mr. Cornelius suggested that the Office of Management and Budget should look into projects that could use TMF assistance, “with both a bottom-up and top-down ability to rethink government IT spending, these new outcomes can save millions of dollars and help countless citizens.”