OPM to run old and new systems side-by-side

Beth Cobert, OPM, official

OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert asked lawmakers to approve funding for cybersecurity work and an IT modernization process that will take years.

The Office of Personnel Management will be running legacy and newer applications simultaneously as it engineers a major transition and, leaders hope, boosts cybersecurity.

In a cordial House Appropriations Committee hearing March 14, acting OPM Director Beth Cobert worked to convince lawmakers that $37 million funneled to OPM would be put to good use setting up the thus-far troubled migration of systems off mainframe computers and into a new "shell" environment.

The dedicated funding is part of the agency's 2017 budget request, though OPM has angled for a $37 million IT funding bump twice in 2015 and was denied both times. OPM Press Secretary Sam Schumach said the latest request differed from prior requests because of its tight focus on modernization.

OPM's inspector general office has criticized the shell project as "a highly complex and costly endeavor" that lacked adequate funding streams, but the agency touted the move as necessary.

"The Shell is fully equipped with the hardware, software, and security tools needed to house the combined IT assets of OPM," Schumach said.

Cobert told lawmakers that progress on standing up and migrating systems into the shell environment would be gradual, even with the $37 million. In 2017, she said, OPM plans to spend $10 million moving a few already-modern systems such as USAJobs into the shell, while for other systems, OPM will spend the year plotting a slow-and-steady path of modernization and then migration.

The goal, Cobert said, was to have thorough plans completed before modernizing and moving legacy systems.

Until then, some systems will be running "side-by-side" in both legacy and shell-supported forms.

"We've got to find a way to continually modernize and refresh our systems," Cobert said, stressing the need for full funding. "The sooner we get through this transition the sooner we will be able to turn off these legacy systems."

Cobert said another key part of the modernization push will be to implement multi-factor authentication on the application level throughout OPM's systems.

She testified that OPM was working to fill former CIO Donna Seymour's shoes as quickly as possible, but did not offer a specific timeline for doing so. Associate CIO David Vargas is currently acting CIO, Cobert said.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.


  • Workforce
    online collaboration (elenabsl/Shutterstock.com)

    Federal employee job satisfaction climbed during pandemic

    The survey documents the rapid change to teleworking postures in government under the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Workforce
    By Mark Van Scyoc Royalty-free stock photo ID: 285175268

    OPM nominee plans focus on telework, IT, retirement

    Kiran Ahuja, a veteran of the Office of Personnel Management, told lawmakers that she thinks that the lack of consistent leadership in the top position at OPM has taken a toll on the ability of the agency to complete longer term IT modernization projects.

Stay Connected