Why legacy IT is a government time bomb

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The federal IT systems face a massive challenge in the coming years that rivals the threat the Year 2000 computer glitch presented almost two decades ago, according to U.S. CIO Tony Scott.

"We're facing a crisis that's bigger than Y2K," Scott said at the Nov. 16 meeting of the President's Management Advisory Board. He was there to talk about the impact of new legislation on federal IT policy and governance.

Scott made the reference to the Year 2000 glitch in talking about the wave of retiring senior IT personnel and how it would affect legacy IT systems.

"The people who built [those systems] are leaving," he said, which means incoming IT professionals might not be able to easily maintain or understand those older systems.

As those retirements continue, legacy systems will become increasingly hard to operate and maintain, and the search for innovative services must increase, Scott added.

His reference to the Year 2000 glitch raised the specter of the federal government scrambling to update IT systems and head off a potentially massive failure, as agencies and commercial entities did in the late 1990s to ensure that systems that previously relied on a two-digit year would recognize the year 2000.

Scott said shared services and capabilities offer some of the best strategies for managing legacy systems after senior IT professionals depart. Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act rules will accelerate acceptance of those kinds of cost-effective IT services, he added.

Come Dec. 31, the deadline for agencies to implement their FITARA plans, progress toward that more efficient and effective IT environment will begin to show, Scott said.

The FITARA report card handed out by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in early November had a miserable number of D and F grades, but he predicted that agencies will show marked improvement.

The data used in making that scorecard was gathered before FITARA took effect, Scott said. "I expect to see significant progress on metrics" when the next congressional scorecard is tallied, he added.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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