Trump Signs Order to Overhaul Government’s Computer Systems

Money is wasted now on maintaining costly and duplicative legacy systems often badly out of date, critics say

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Washington, May 16, 2018 | comments
John D. McKinnon

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to help accelerate long-delayed efforts to modernize the government’s patchwork of aging computer systems.

The federal government spends as much as $90 billion a year on information technology, but much of that money is wasted on maintaining costly and duplicative legacy systems that are often 10 to 20 years out of date, according to critics on both sides of the aisle.

One reason is a lack of funds for modernizing the government’s massive technology infrastructure. But another reason is the highly fragmented system that many agencies have traditionally used to oversee their IT.

For example, many agencies have numerous chief information officers, not just one, to run their IT. Those CIOs often don’t report to agency heads or coordinate effectively, and they sometimes have little incentive or authority to implement comprehensive modernization plans, administration officials said.

The Department of Agriculture, which has emerged as a testing ground for the administration’s approach to IT overhauls, until recently has had 22 chief information officers for its various units. It’s in the process of reducing that number to one, with seven assistant CIOs for specific services and programs.

Other agencies are expected to follow suit under the executive order that Mr. Trump signed Tuesday.

“President Trump is drawing on the best practices from the private sector and empowering CIOs to lead the technology transformation at their agencies,” Mr. Kushner said Tuesday. “The true answer to modernizing government technology is to build the capacity to conduct change on an ongoing basis. By ensuring that agency CIOs are empowered, today’s action by President Trump is a critical step forward.”

The modernization efforts stand to benefit some major players in cloud and software services, including International Business Machines Corp. , Microsoft Corp. , OracleCorp. and Inc. It could hurt suppliers of hardware and IT consulting that have sold legacy IT products and services to the government.

In a fact sheet, the White House said that Tuesday’s executive order will increase the ability of agency CIOs to “influence decision making across bureaus and drive an enterprise-wide view of IT.” It said that past efforts by Congress to spur modernization often have had limited impact because “most agency CIOs still have limited control over IT spending.”

Senior administration officials cast the overall modernization effort as perhaps the largest enterprise IT transformation ever attempted. One described Tuesday’s move as “a foundational step in a multiyear journey.”

In a briefing, senior administration officials said they hope the move to empower agency CIOs will help agencies better use their existing budgetary resources to solve the problems of waste and duplication.

“Our hope is there’s more investment in new systems that are cheap, lighter and much more efficient,” one official said.

Mr. Trump previously has taken other steps to shift the government toward more sharing of IT services among agencies, and improve the government’s ability to withstand cyberattacks.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.), who has pushed for modernization, praised the administration’s action. He said lawmakers have found that agency CIO’s “were often not adequately involved in the management and governance of IT investments until critical problems arose.” He expressed disappointment that the Defense Department is not covered by the executive order, however.
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