April 30, 2021

Wall Street Journal on Senator Hassan's Federal IT Hearing

WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, The Wall Street Journal reported on a hearing that U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan chaired earlier this week on the costs of legacy IT systems and the barriers to modernizing these systems. During the hearing, the Senator emphasized the enormous costs of legacy IT systems and also focused on the impact that legacy IT systems have on the federal government’s ability to provide efficient customer service and protect against cyber threats. As Chair of the Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight Subcommittee, Senator Hassan is working across the aisle to cut waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government.


See below for excerpts in The Wall Street Journal or click here to read the full article.


Wall Street Journal: Federal IT Experts Cite Host of Roadblocks to Tech Modernization

Agencies are facing tech skill shortages, tight budgets and decades-old computer code

By Angus Loten


Federal lawmakers are pressing government agencies to accelerate long-running efforts to update aging information-technology systems, which are hampering services and creating security risks, they say.


The obstacles holding agencies back, federal IT experts say, are equally old: tight budgets and a short supply of skilled workers.


The issue has taken on greater urgency during the Covid-19 pandemic, when technology shortcomings have caused glitches and security risks as many federal operations shifted to remote work, said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.).


[…] Ms. Hassan, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight, said at a hearing Tuesday that added costs of supporting legacy systems accounted for roughly a third of $90 billion in total IT spending last year by federal agencies.


Those costs included additional maintenance for legacy systems, as well as the need for workers with specialized skills in running decades-old enterprise tech tools, such as Cobol, computer code developed in the 1950s. In some cases, Ms. Hassan said, agencies have had to rehire retired tech staff who know how to handle a department’s throwback hardware and software.


“These are legacy systems that are in desperate need of modernization,” said Kevin Walsh, director of IT and cybersecurity at the Government Accountability Office. Speaking at Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Walsh said some of the software applications used by federal agencies are no longer supported by the tech vendors that created them.


[…] Max Everett, former chief information officer at the Energy Department, said one downside of older IT systems is the lost opportunity to leverage data to improve public services: “There is so much that is on paper right now, and that’s a problem,” Mr. Everett said, citing piles of paperwork and other hard copy documents in filing cabinets or stacked in agency storage rooms.


Another issue, he said, is that older systems do not support modern security measures, such as data encryption—making the entire network vulnerable.


[…] “Legacy IT systems are expensive to maintain,” said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank. “In the long run, it’s usually cheaper to replace them,” he said.