Parts of the federal government rely on comically old technology that is vulnerable and very difficult to maintain.
Overhauling federal technology infrastructure has bipartisan appeal.
In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to modernize the U.S. government. To kick off the process, he invited 20 tech CEOs to the White House to discuss how to make the transition. But the idea of overhauling government IT didn’t start with the Trump White House. President Barack Obama created the U.S. Digital Service to attract tech sector experts to federal jobs and to fix the broken system from within.
There’s a financial incentive to do so: A 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report estimated that we spend $80 billion annually on IT because of obsolete technologies and sweeping inefficiencies. The GAO report included a sobering technology audit. It found that the State Department uses a 26-year-old system to track visa information for 55,000 foreign nationals—software that has since been decommissioned by the vendor who built it.
In a perplexing move, President Trump acknowledged that government systems need to be overhauled—but then didn’t name key advisors who would have the authority to make needed changes, casting doubt on the future of the initiative. The problem isn’t just about legacy systems, it’s about keeping pace with the changing nature of technology. Old software, machines, and systems are expensive to maintain.
There aren’t many technicians who have enough institutional knowledge to make the necessary fixes, which means re-hiring retired employees at high contract wages. Until significant updates are made, these legacy systems are vulnerable to attack.
Government Accountability Office, Internal Revenue Service, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and U.S. departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, State, and Transportation, U.S. Digital Service, as well as lawmakers.
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