Modernizing Government Technology

October 20th, 2016 | Posted by Alexa Magdalenski in Capital Cybersecurity Summit | Cybersecurity and Privacy | Events | Guest Blogs

Jack Huffard, president, COO and co-founder of Tenable Network Security, discusses the latest legislation on legacy IT in the federal government in his NVTC guest blog post. Huffard will be participating on the Collaborating for Cyber Success Panel at NVTC’s Capital Cybersecurity Summit on November 2-3, 2016.


jack-huffard-2015-2-webIn government IT, the old adage “if it works, don’t fix it” no longer applies. While legacy systems may still technically be working, they can harbor risky vulnerabilities without vendor support, regular security updates or patch management. This point hit home for many in May when a report from the Government Accountability Office revealed that the country’s nuclear arsenal was still controlled by a system with an 8-inch floppy disk.

More recently, the House Oversight and Reform Committee released its report analyzing the OPM Data Breach that exfiltrated personally identifiable information (PII) of over 4 million government employees and over 21 million more cleared individuals. One of the report’s key recommendations was to modernize existing legacy federal information technology assets to help prevent another such egregious attack.

The Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2016

Earlier this year, to address this urgent situation, two bills were introduced in Congress to help modernize government IT systems – the MOVE IT Act and the IT Modernization Fund. Both bills have since been combined into the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2016 (the MGT Act). This Act would create individual funds for government agencies and a broader centralized fund to which agencies could apply for financing modernization efforts. The bill states that the funds could be used “for technology related activities, to improve information technology, to enhance cybersecurity across the Federal Government.”

Details of the MGT Act

More specifically, MGT stipulates several areas in which modernization funds can be used, including:

  • Replacing existing systems that are outdated and inefficient
  • Transitioning to cloud computing (using the private sector as a model)
  • Enhancing information security technologies

The Act states that the government currently spends almost 75% of its IT budget (which now totals over $80 billion) on operating and maintaining legacy systems, leaving little left over for modernization efforts. Not only are these systems subject to failure, but as they get older and older, they present greater and greater security risks as well. So it is good to see that the Act encourages not only the simple replacement of agencies’ IT systems, but the addition of cybersecurity technology. Regardless of which new technology is chosen – on-premises, virtual, or cloud-based – there is also a pressing need for better information security solutions for government infrastructures, as evidenced by recent agency breaches.

MGT is unique and different than previous proposals because it does not appropriate funds. Rather, it enables agencies to transfer monies – that they have saved by retiring legacy systems and moving to newer technologies – into individual IT working capital funds. They could then reinvest those funds over the next three years for other modernization initiatives, avoiding the “use it or lose it” cycle.

The Act also calls for a general government-wide IT Modernization Fund. This centralized fund would be overseen by the General Services Administration (GSA) and an IT Modernization Board in accordance with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget. Agencies would apply, and present business cases for access to the funds to modernize their legacy IT infrastructures. The centralized fund would then be replenished with savings from those modernization initiatives.

The 8-member IT Modernization Board would include the Administrator of the Office of Electronic Government, a GSA official, a NIST employee, a DoD employee, a DHS employee, and three tech-savvy federal employees.

Moving forward in the 21st century

The MGT Act was introduced by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tx.) who is one of the few members of Congress with a computer science degree. It was co-sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) in a welcome display of bipartisan collaboration. The House passed the bill at the end of September 2016. It is now up to the Senate to act on the bill. Prospects for passage are encouraging, and this bill would be a good step towards updating legacy IT systems, strengthening cybersecurity and embracing 21st century technologies.

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