White House federal IT plan details revamp of ‘outdated’ system

By on 06/09/2017 | Updated on 04/02/2022
President Trump has requested US$228m (€191m) for a ‘technology modernisation fund’ to help agencies transition from old to new IT systems (Image courtesy: Jannoon028 / Freepik)

A report ordered by President Donald Trump has set out recommendations for an overhaul of the “unwieldy and out-of-date” US federal IT system, in part to address today’s heightened cybersecurity threats.

The report published, last week by the American Technology Council (ACT) and the Office of American Innovation (OAI), outlines the current and envisioned state of federal IT and sets out the steps needed to instigate a “new wave” of modernisation.

The ATC and OAI were formed by the Trump administration earlier this year, the latter headed by Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner. In an executive order in May, Trump tasked the ATC with preparing a report looking at how the federal IT system can be modernised and made more secure against cyber attacks.

Systems too slow, insecure

The draft report acknowledges that, although federal agencies have sought to modernise their IT systems, they have frequently been “stymied” by a variety of recurring factors. “Difficulties in agency prioritisation of resources in support of IT modernisation, ability to procure services quickly and technical issues [have] resulted in an unwieldy and out-of-date federal IT infrastructure incapable of operating with the agility and security that is required of a multibillion-dollar federal IT enterprise,” the report notes.

Drawing on input from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Services Administration (GSA), the report makes recommendations around two broad themes: modernisation and consolidation of existing networks; and the shift to shared services to create cost savings and improve security.

On modernisation and consolidation, the report envisions a federal IT infrastructure where agencies “maximise secure use of cloud computing, modernise government-hosted applications and securely maintain legacy systems”.

“These actions enable agencies to move from protection of their network perimeters and managing legacy physical deployments toward protection of federal data and cloud-optimised deployments,” it says.

Priorities & procurement

It urges agencies to focus modernisation efforts and resources on “high-risk, high-value” assets – those that are deemed either the most critical to daily business, or the most vulnerable.

The report also encourages federal bodies to consolidate and standardise network and security procurement efforts to maximise economies of scale and avoid duplication.

On shared services, the report makes a number of recommendations aimed at enabling government to move towards a consolidated IT model. These include improvements to contracts to enable agencies to acquire cloud computing products, and an acceleration in the rollout of cloud-based email across government to enhance the security of email, cited by the report as a particular vulnerability for individuals and agencies.

Show us the money

Trump has requested US$228m (€191m) for a ‘technology modernisation fund’ in his 2018 budget to help agencies transition from old to new IT systems, but the report makes no mention of specific new resources to fund its recommendations.

Instead it emphasises the need for agencies to “realign” their IT resources “appropriately” based on data-driven analysis and technical evaluation, with the OMB working with them to determine which systems should be prioritised for modernisation.

In some cases, the report says, agencies should consider “cut and invest” strategies, where funding is reallocated from obsolete legacy systems to modern, cloud-based and shared solutions.

The draft report will be out for consultation until 20 September.

About Ben Willis

Ben Willis is a journalist and editor with a varied background reporting on topics including public policy, the environment, renewable energy and international development. His work has appeared in a variety of national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times, as well as numerous specialist business, policy and consumer publications.

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