FCC seeks $13.5 million for IT modernization

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told lawmakers that many of the agency's IT systems are so out of date that vendors no longer support them.

The Federal Communications Commission is looking for an IT upgrade.

The regulatory agency has 207 computer systems for just 1,700 employees, Chairman Tom Wheeler said. He made his case for $35 million in new funding, including $13.5 million for IT upgrades, during testimony before House and Senate appropriations subcommittees this week.

"Our systems are incompatible, they can't talk to each other, and they're highly inefficient. Worst of all, they're insecure," Wheeler said on March 25. "There are serious challenges. $13 million is a lot of money, but the reality here is if we don't spend that now, we'll spend that in the next two years in the baling wire and glue we need to hold existing systems together."

Wheeler noted that 40 percent of the FCC's IT systems are more than 10 years old, and many are so out of data that they lack vendor support.

The agency's budget request of $13.5 million for IT upgrades includes $9.2 million for modernizing IT systems, $2 million for cybersecurity programs and about $1.3 million for improvements to the National Broadband Map, an open-data project that tracks the availability of high-speed Internet connections nationwide.

FCC CIO David Bray has ambitious plans for an IT turnaround and said the FCC could have "some of the best IT in government" in an 18-month time frame. On Twitter and in recent public appearances, he has noted that the agency reduced its use of the soon-to-be-unsupported Windows XP operating system to fewer than 3 percent of its computers.

A rapid IT turnaround at a small agency like the FCC could be more manageable than an effort to transform the infrastructure at a larger agency with multiple components -- perhaps more akin to turning around a destroyer than the proverbial aircraft carrier.

There are headwinds, however, particularly when it comes to streamlining procurement. At a March 27 event sponsored by Nextgov, Bray said it took the FCC about a month and a half to buy some $60 licenses to test code development in the cloud and discovered that a $90 Apple iOS developer's license couldn't be done with an agency credit card and required a purchase order.

Wheeler's budget request includes funding for 10 new IT positions at the FCC, and the modernization projects will likely involve dozens of contract workers as well.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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