Modernization Muscle

Modernization Muscle

The US Government spends over 75% of its information technology budget to maintain obsolete systems. Some examples include:

“The federal government spent more than 75 percent of the total amount budgeted for information technology (IT) for fiscal year 2015 on operations and maintenance (O&M) investments. Specifically, 5,233 of the government's approximately 7,000 IT investments are spending all of their funds on O&M activities. Such spending has increased over the past 7 fiscal years, which has resulted in a $7.3 billion decline from fiscal years 2010 to 2017 in development, modernization, and enhancement activities.”
U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Department of Defense use of 8-inch floppy disks in a legacy system that coordinates the operational functions of the nation's nuclear forces; and
  • Department of the Treasury use of assembly language code, initially used in the 1950s and is typically tied to the hardware for which it was developed.
This fact led Brigadier General Gregory Touhill, the first chief information security officer of the U.S., to propose a centralized IT organization that would help agencies adopt more modern systems. In his opinion, by being in charge of everything in the .gov domain, it would reduce the cost of data centers and operations, provide better management of storing data in the cloud and improve security. Unfortunately things haven’t gotten better, and a new model that would put some muscle into government IT modernization is desperately needed.

Modernization Muscle

A New Economic Model for Government IT

In January 2017, Jim Piche of the GSA’s FEDSIM office, offered a glimmer of hope by saying that the Department of Homeland Security’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) task orders could serve as pilots for how to use a centralized IT fund to modernize government IT. Since task orders under the CDM program are centrally funded by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for all CFO Act agencies, CDM mirrors the business case behind a centralized, government-wide IT modernization fund. In this model, the federal government could invest in capabilities that could benefit dozens of agencies.

Similar to the CDM model, the House passed Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017 (MGT) bill establishes a:

“Technology Modernization Fund for technology related activities, to improve information technology, and to enhance cybersecurity across the federal government. The fund shall be administered by the Commissioner of the Technology Transformation Service of the General Services Administration in accordance with guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget.”

Cloud with Clout

Just as cloud computing established a new economic model for information technology, Senate passage could lead to a new IT economic model for the U.S. Government and for the entire public sector marketplace. Such a move would finally put some muscle behind a much needed culture change. It could also incentivize adoption of government IT operations standards that tend to be widely ignored.

If signed into law, the Commissioner, Office of Management and Budget will be directed to:

  • Transfer amounts from the fund to an agency to improve, retire, or replace existing federal information technology systems to enhance cybersecurity and improve efficiency and effectiveness;
  • Use amounts in the fund for the development, operation and procurement of information technology products, services and acquisition vehicles to improve efficiency and cybersecurity; and
  • Use amounts in the fund to provide services or work performed in support of such activities.
The bill would also establish a Technology Modernization Board to:

  • Evaluate proposals submitted by agencies for funding authorized under the fund;
  • Make recommendations to the Commissioner to assist agencies in the further development and refinement of select modernization proposals;
  • Monitor progress and performance in executing approved projects and, if necessary, recommend the suspension or termination of funding; and
  • Monitor fund operating costs.
From a cloud computing industry point of view, MGT could actually accelerate IT service management adoption and improve how information is managed and protected. It could also enhance the effectiveness of offerings like Engility’s Cloud ASCEND by incentivizing cost effective and efficient deployment of information technology.

Information technology has become central to every industry. Government is no different. The use of 50 year-old assembly code and 8-inch floppy disks is not only embarrassing and wasteful, the cybersecurity threat it represents makes it also dangerous to our society and way of life. Although legislative bills don’t usually attract my attention, this one is unique in that it could simultaneously affect my chosen profession, improve how our contribution to the federal budget is spent and protect our families from the threat of cyberterrorists. With this triple positive effect in the works, it’s definitely on my watch list.

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Posted by Kevin Jackson

I am an Engility Tech Fellow and serve as the director for cloud services. I provide my subject matter expertise to the exploration and development of enterprise strategies that leverage cloud computing to improve business and mission accomplishment. Through my work at Engility, I have assisted a number of government customers develop enterprise systems engineering, mission-enabling architectures and value-based solutions for the national security and public safety markets.
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