Biden Budget squarely aims to modernize government technology

White House steps up efforts to modernize aging information technology systems in federal agencies, focusing the bulk of $ 58.4 billion information technology spending plan on upgrades level, maintenance, cybersecurity and an accelerated push to the cloud.

Unveiled on Friday, the plan is part of President Biden’s $ 6 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2022. In addition to increased spending on public infrastructure, health and education, the budget calls for to “modernization of obsolete and often insecure computing” and a faster shift to “secure and cost-effective commercial cloud solutions and shared services”.

It includes additional funding for more than 4,500 IT projects in 25 branches, among others. The proposed budget would add $ 500 million to the Technology Modernization Fund, on top of $ 1 billion injected earlier this year as part of the administration’s economic stimulus plan. The additional funds would go to “support agencies in modernizing, strengthening and securing obsolete information systems,” according to budget documents.

The administration would also allocate $ 9.8 billion to strengthen cybersecurity, as well as address skills gaps in the government’s IT and cybersecurity workforce, including new recruitment programs and training.

In total, the president’s budget request for federal IT would represent a 2.4% increase over spending in fiscal 2021. The plan does not include the IT spending of the Department of Defense.

Separately, the full budget sets aside $ 13 billion to expand broadband, which for many has proven to be a lifeline during Covid-19 lockdowns and the massive shift to remote working.

Lawmakers typically ignore White House budget requests for their own plans, although the top spending priorities may be similar.

The Congressional Budget Office declined to comment.

Modernizing government IT has been a problem for decades, although progress has been slow. Some agencies continue to run systems on Cobol, a code developed in the 1950s. Budget deficits and the lack of skilled workers are often cited as the main obstacles to modernization efforts.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a technology and public policy think tank based in Washington, DC, said the budget aims to address public technology failures during the pandemic. This includes funding to improve state unemployment websites, which were inundated with applications during the crisis, causing some to go out of business.

“But to get a bigger change, Congress will need to allocate a lot more money to modernize IT systems,” he said, adding that the highest priorities should be moving to the cloud and improving security. .

“Technology and infrastructure are not a one-size-fits-all problem, but an ongoing investment,” said Michael Kratsios, chief executive of data management startup Scale AI Inc. and former federal chief technology officer for the Trump administration. .

The federal IT upgrade is a critical step in the quest for more advanced capabilities, such as artificial intelligence, to keep the United States ahead of China and other global technology rivals, he said. -he declares. “Agencies can’t even start thinking about next-level AI applications without it,” Mr. Kratsios said.

Operating older computer systems is also expensive. According to Senator Maggie Hassan (D., NH), chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Watch, the costs of supporting legacy systems accounted for about a third of the $ 90 billion in total IT spending. last year by federal agencies.

During a Senate hearing in April, Ms Hassan said the government’s aging computer systems were causing problems and security risks as federal operations shifted to remote work last year in the first months of the year. Covid-19 epidemic.

“Despite the billions of dollars spent each year, federal IT investments often suffer from a lack of disciplined and effective management,” said Kevin Walsh, director of IT and cybersecurity at the Government Accountability Office, House Oversight and Reform Committee in April.

Mr Walsh said that despite heavy investments, many federal IT projects fail to deliver or experience cost overruns, often due to poor planning and oversight, among other shortcomings. He cited issues ranging from freezing Internal Revenue Service computers or taking excessive time to restart, to IT initiatives canceled by the Coast Guard, Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense that have cost hundreds of dollars. thousands of dollars.

Gartner Inc.,

a computer research and consulting firm, estimates that about half of all federal agencies will have modernized some critical business applications by 2025, largely through the transfer of more software and technology. infrastructure to more cost-effective cloud computing services.

Write to Angus Loten at [email protected]

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