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U.S. CIO aims to cut legacy spending, proposes IT modernization

Kenneth Corbin | May 30, 2016
With three-quarters of all government IT spending going to support legacy systems, administration is seeking to borrow a page from private sector with a dedicated modernization fund.

IT reform enjoys some bipartisan support -- after all, there is broad agreement on both sides of the aisle that older computing systems are inefficient, costly and more vulnerable to security risks, and the desire to eliminate wasteful spending is hardly a single-party issue. Members of both parties appeared receptive to the proposal for the modernization fund, though some warned of the potential for further waste, while opinions differed on how the federal government's $80 billion IT apparatus had fallen so far behind.

CIO tenure roadblock to undertaking major tech reform projects

Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office, identified one of the key challenges that keeps agencies from undertaking major technology reform projects: CIO tenure. According to Powner, whose agency has studied the issue, the average federal CIO only stays in that role for two years, often departing for a more lucrative position in the private sector. In the government, with its cumbersome procurement and acquisition procedures, that's simply not enough time to see many big projects through to completion, he said.

"It's a huge problem," Powner said. "In regards to legacy systems, what CIO wants to come in over a two-year period and undertake one of these massive conversion efforts? They pick the low-hanging fruit and get quick wins. They don't tackle the difficult stuff often enough."

Lawmakers have already introduced legislation that would establish the IT modernization fund that the administration has proposed. Of the 20 co-sponsors on that bill, all but California's Darrell Issa are Democrats. Whether Congress enacts the proposal or takes another tack, Scott stressed that a fundamental structural change -- along with the funding to act on it -- is necessary if the federal government hopes for a thorough update of its IT operations.

"[I]f we continue to do the same thing we've been doing before, we're just making the situation worse," Scott said. "A good friend of mine once told me if you're riding a dead horse, best dismount, and I think it's time for us to dismount from this past practice and get onto a more modern method."


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