The Strategic Automated Command and Control System at the Defense Department stores information on 8-inch floppy disks.
We hear a lot about the need to replace our aging infrastructure these days, and what comes immediately to mind are roads, bridges and the electrical grid. But there is another, and perhaps more pressing problem: our outdated technology systems.
In a jaw dropping report conducted by the Government Accountability Office, it was found that we are spending three quarters of a $80 billion technology budget to prop up computer systems that are better suited for a museum.
The Strategic Automated Command and Control System at the Defense Department, which sends and receives emergency messages to our nuclear forces is running on a 1970s IBM platform. Data is stored on 8-inch floppy disks. FLOPPY DISKS! (Yes, I know, there are some of you reading this who don’t have any idea what a floppy disk is.) And by the way, the 8-inch floppy disk is the granddaddy of all floppy disks. The good news – sort of – is that the Pentagon expects to make the transition from floppy disks by the end of next year.
The Treasury Department’s taxpayer information files are on systems that date back about 56 years. The computer language used is difficult to write as well as to maintain.
Some Social Security systems use COBOL, an antiquated computer language that was developed in 1959. According to the GAO report, “Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire and the agency will lose their collective knowledge. Training new employees to maintain the older system takes a lot of time.” There are no plans to replace the entire system, but some of the older and more expensive components are being eliminated and the SSA is rehiring employees who are familiar with the technology. One has to wonder: What will they do when that entire generation is gone?
The Transportation Department’s Hazardous Materials Information System is used to track incidents and stores information used by regulators. The system is about 41 years old. Some vendors no longer support some of the software, posing a security risk.
The report concludes, “Legacy federal IT investments are becoming obsolete. The federal government runs the risk of continuing to maintain investments that have outlived their effectiveness and are consuming resources that outweigh their benefits.”
Meanwhile, despite a push from the Obama administration to update our woefully inadequate technology systems, the modernization budget has shrunk to $7 billion less for fiscal 2017 than it was in 2010.
Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said, “This is not a partisan issue. It is a vital part of the infrastructure we need in order to have a fully functional government.” (Please excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor after typing a Republican uttering the words “a fully functional government” – an oxymoron if ever there was one.) Not surprisingly, Chaffetz has not committed to any legislation to accomplish that goal. What a shock!
Other Republicans are wary of the change, and say before they agree to fund upgrades, they want assurances that the new systems will save money.
Because throwing billions of dollars at systems that use floppy disks and belong in the Smithsonian is such a cost effective way to run the government. And they like to call themselves the Party of fiscal responsibility.